Another Perspective

Elementary — and Appalling

The Vice President and gun safety.

By 2.13.06

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Elementary reporting. I get a call telling me that Vice President Dick Cheney has accidentally shot a hunting companion, I start asking questions.

How did it happen? Where was the vice president standing in relation to the man he shot? How far away? Were other shots fired at the same time, or did the vice president alone fire?

How many people were in the hunting party? How many people saw it happen? Did the party include any professional helpers, i.e., guides or beaters? Were they hunting with dogs? Let's have the names of the people in the hunting party, please.

What gauge shotgun was Mr. Cheney carrying? How was it loaded? How much powder did the shells contain, and how many beebees of what weight? You use different loads for different birds. His friend Mr. Whittington is lucky they weren't hunting goose.

Was Mr. Cheney using his own shotgun? Or had he rented or borrowed one? Or just bought a new one?

And from there, you dig into: What medications does Mr. Cheney take? Can any of them affect judgment or vision?

Certainly it is possible that a good print reporter has reported the story this way. But not TV and not radio. The big media seem obsessed with why they weren't told sooner about the accident.

BEFORE I WENT HUNTING FOR THE FIRST TIME, my Dad took me to the National Rifle Association's gun safety course. Later that year, we drove with a neighbor to my grandparents' place in South Dakota, in the middle of prime pheasant country and hunted for two long weekends in a row.

At that time and place, we hunted pretty humbly. We drove the country roads slowly, watching the brushy ditches. When we saw a cluster of pheasant heads we let the car ease to a stop some distance by, and quickly and carefully got out, leaving our doors open to keep the noise down. We grabbed our guns from the trunk, spread out, and walked back, keeping in line abreast formation, hoping to spook the birds into flight over a field.

No dogs, no beaters, plenty of game. Under local etiquette, if we flushed pheasants from a ditch and downed them over a field, we could go on the field to get them. If, however, we actually wanted to stalk a field, we had to ask the farmer-owner's permission, which was usually granted.

Above all, you actually had to flush the birds. You could, of course, have killed more pheasants by shooting them on the ground, where they sometimes tried to play possum and hide. Sometimes the pheasants refused to fly, and ran along the ditches. You didn't shoot at them there, either.

Throughout our hunting days, we sometimes joined up with other small parties, particularly if we had been given permission to walk a cornfield. One time, a young stranger walked up ahead of us and to the right. We shortly heard a report. Pellets flickered the stubble near our legs. The young stranger had spotted a bird to his left and had taken a potshot at it on the ground, in our direction.

"Let's get out of here," my Dad said, and we turned the other way and left. Fast.

MAYBE YOU EXPECT DIFFERENT things on gentleman hunting estates. But the first rule of gun handling is never to point at anything you don't want to shoot. That means your gun muzzle should never cross another person at any time.

That means that, when hunting birds, you should always carry your gun with the muzzle pointed downrange ... and up.

That Vice President Cheney did not observe this elementary precaution, that he apparently turned and fired a shot level with the ground, I find appalling.

It is not my job to call for his resignation. But I can certainly call his behavior and judgment into question.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.