Ignoring Cheney's real victims

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Dick Meister. former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeistersf.com, which includes more than 250 of his columns.

 

So, as the Washington Post 's Paul Farhi reported recently, hunter Harry Whittington is still suffering from the effects of  being shot accidentally by hunting partner Dick Cheney in Texas four years ago.

I'm sure we're all sorry about that, about how Whittington still has the lead pellet that pierced his larynx when the then-vice president swung around abruptly and fired away at a flight of quail. We're of course sorry, too, about the 30 or so other pieces of shot still inside Whittington out of some 200 that slammed him, and the scars he bears.

 "I was lucky," Whittington told Farhi, "I just feel every day 's a gift. Sometimes I wonder why I got those extra years."

But what of the real victims? What of the defenseless quail that Cheney, Washington and two friends were stalking with a clear and undisguised intent to kill?

At least one quail was saved when Dead Eye Dick hit Whittington while aiming for a bird, and there was a bit of poetic justice since Whittington was struck as he was returning from retrieving a quail he had killed.

But no one bothered reporting how many other birds had been killed. After all, they were inferior beings raised for the amusement of Cheney and others who get their kicks stalking and killing fellow creatures.

Cheney's been at it a long time, targeting ducks, pheasants and other birds as well as quail, in company with such other conservative favorites as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former President George W. Bush.

Although apparently not as skilled and frequent a hunter as Cheney, Bush has managed to bring down a few winged creatures himself, most notably during his New Year's holiday in Texas a few years back., Bush, who modestly declared that "I'm not that good a shot," managed to down five quail. He said that "was a lot of fun."
 
Bush praised the owner of the area in which the hunt took place for maintaining the land as a good habitat, not because it benefited the birds, of course, but because  – like the Texas farm where Cheney was hunting – it provided easy targets for hunters who wished to kill birds.

There are more than 20 million "sportsmen" like Bush and Cheney who find it fun to prey on innocent birds and animals.

The number of "sportsmen" has declined in recent years, thanks to anti-gun sentiment, urbanization, the animal rights movement, availability of a broad range of other leisure activities, heightened environmental awareness and the increasing cost of hunting equipment,

But there are still far too many people searching the countryside for winged and four-legged victims. What's more, manufacturers of guns and other hunting gear have greatly intensified efforts to increase their number. So have state fish and game departments, which rely on hunters' license fees to cover much of their operational costs.

Hunters and their defenders argue that, although the hunters' targets are too dumb to realize it, hunting actually benefits them by "thinning the herds" and thus keeping them from starvation. But though there's no doubt that reducing or at least relocating some animal populations may be necessary for their survival, there are civilized ways to do it.

Once, long ago, we had to hunt and kill in order to survive. But this is the 21st century. It's outrageous that leaders and citizens of the world's most powerful and influential nation, one that presumes to be the role model for all others, find it amusing to engage in the barbarity of killing for sport.

Invariably, when I address this subject, people come back at me complaining that I just don't understand that some people need to hunt animals to help feed their families.

I understand. But that's another matter entirely. I'm writing about the vast majority of hunters who hunt and kill their fellow animals, not for food, but for the fun of it. To me, that seems a sick thing to do.

 Let me repeat: It's killing for the sport of it that should disturb us all. It's not just the bird and animal targets that need protecting. Think of the message that's being delivered to the rest of us. It's a message, as animal rights activist Jamie Kemsey noted, "that it is acceptable to commit an act of violence and take innocent life simply for the fun of it. In these violent times we cannot afford, under any circumstances, to condone such morally bankrupt actions."

Dick Meister. former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeistersf.com, which includes more than 250 of his columns.