Eliminating age restrictions for hunting dumb idea

IF LAWMAKERS REMOVED GOVERNMENT from every aspect of people’s lives, a 6-year-old somewhere would be driving a car because that tyke’s parents felt their child could handle the responsibility.

While nobody in Madison is foolish enough — we would hope — to extend driving privileges to little kids, the GOP-controlled Legislature advanced an idea almost as idiotic last week: eliminating age restrictions on hunting.

That’s right — toddlers could be toting guns through the woods if Gov. Scott Walker signs a bill passed by both the Assembly and Senate. We would hope he’s wise enough to veto the measure, even if it means Walker must irritate his base heading into an election year. He should call out this legislation for what it is: reckless. (UPDATE: Walker signed the bill Saturday.)

Several hunting associations back the bill, but how does giving guns to small children benefit most hunters? Hunters, after all, stand to lose if a 4-year-old fires a weapon in the wrong direction.

It’s not as if current law prohibits all children from hunting. It sets a minimum age of 10 years old and requires an adult to accompany the child. Current law also allows for only one gun between two people during a mentored hunt until the child turns 12.

Along with eliminating the age restriction, the legislation adopted last week would eliminate this one-gun requirement during a mentored hunt.

Most parents are good teachers. They show children how to properly handle a firearm and maintain awareness of other hunters. But even adults — some of them with years of hunting experience — make mistakes, and hardly a year passes without an avoidable hunting tragedy making the news.

The bill’s supporters view this issue through a dogmatic lens, putting parental choice ahead public safety. But even the most ardent conservatives agree government has a role to play in promoting public safety.

Driving laws are a perfect example. The law requires teens to wait until they’re 16 to acquire a driver’s license because that’s when teens are generally mature enough to assume the responsibilities of operating a vehicle, which can function like a weapon if mishandled. Sure, some kids maybe could drive responsibly at 13 or 14, but lawmakers decided long ago — in the interest of public safety — having younger kids drive is a bad idea.

The author of the bill to eliminate the hunting age restriction, Rep. Rob Stafsholt of New Richmond, seems unwilling to consider the public-safety side of the equation, focusing solely on the parental control part. He said he believed he was capable of handling a .22-caliber rifle when he was 8 years old, and that’s great for him.

But not every 8-year-old is ready and, just as important, not every parent is capable of determining whether their child is ready to handle a hunt.

The point of age restrictions isn’t to ruin people’s fun but to ensure people are safe as practically possible. That’s not a slam on Wisconsin parents — it’s just reality and the same logic that guides age restrictions on driving.

We empathize with legislators’ desire to reinvigorate Wisconsin’s great hunting tradition. Many memories are made from parents teaching their kids how to hunt. That legislators and hunting associations want to get more people involved is a worthy goal, but endangering public safety to promote a sport or pastime is reckless. One of the governor’s jobs is to veto reckless legislation. — The Janesville Gazette, Nov. 12

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