As all airgun users will understand , I was deeply saddened by the incident in Suffolk this weekend which resulted in the loss of yet another teenage life in an air rifle ‘accident’. My sincere sympathy goes out to the family of Ben Wragge, who must be struggling to come to terms with their sons loss. As an airgun expert, author and journalist it saddened me further, tonight, to hear my local TV news open their report on the incident. They stated ‘following the death of a local teenager this weekend, the ownership of airguns has once again been called into question’. The first point I have to make is that when guns are involved, there is no such thing as an ‘accident’. There can only be misuse or neglect. In my opinion, even if these lads were legitimately using the gun on private land or with the permission of the landowner (as 14 year olds can), there is an adult to be held accountable here somewhere. Why? Because a 14 year old can’t own an air rifle. You need to be 18 years old to own one. So the gun must have been lent to them by an adult. An airgun owner must now also ensure that no-one under the age of 18 can gain access to their guns. They must be secured. Which means either an adult handed them the gun or they had access to an unsecured rifle. If the former is true, were the boys properly educated in airgun safety? An adults responsibility. If the latter is true, an adult breached best practice and (possibly) the law. If one of the lenders was known to be under the age of 14, the boys should have been supervised by an adult aged 21 or over. Now obviously, if the boys were on private land with permission and were joined by a 13 year old, it would be very hard to expect a consenting gun lender to anticipate that. None of which helps resolve the incident that occurred.
My annoyance with the media over this tragedy is, once again, their terminology and their blame of the gun for the terrible loss. If we are to blame the negligent misuse of a legitimate tool for what is termed ‘accidental’ death … and call for a ban (yes, it’s happening already) then we need to be prepared to ban many other things too. Such as the car, the motorbike, the syringe, the gas boiler, the airplane, the electric plug, the horse, the scooter, the swimming pool … the list is endless. It’s not the ‘thing’ that is to blame … it is the user.
The airgun, in the right hands and used responsibly, gives sport and enjoyment to hundreds of thousands of people, nationally. Without incident. just like the car, the motorbike, the horse, the swimming pool … I think you take my point? Can we please remember that as we grieve for young Ben?
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2016. Republication by agreement only.
Picture this? A group of families, clubs, work-groups or neighbours gather together to celebrate a long established British tradition. They dress for the occasion and enjoy the mutual interest and camaraderie of their like-minded associates. New friendships will be forged, old ones renewed on what may be for many the only occasion they will meet this year. Beyond the misted breath and excitement, there will be feasting and drink and merriment. The ruddy faces of the children will beam with exhilaration. Time away from the TV and the game console, enjoying the open air, will long be remembered and they will almost certainly do it again next year. It was the annual drag-hunt. For foxes now enjoy a special level of protection from this old rural ritual.
A different group of people will be watching this celebration from another perspective, their rhetoric incorporating words like ‘cruelty, barbaric, outrage, needless, out-dated’. Even though no foxes were engaged? Some extremists will attack riders, even children on ponies. They will take iron bars to the hunt helpers. They will spray pepper into horses eyes, as if the horse wasn’t an animal like the fox? They will do this under the anonymous, cowardly cloak of a balaclava (ironically the garment that protected soldiers from the bitter cold in the Crimean War).
Now, picture this? A group of families, clubs, work-groups or neighbours gather together to celebrate a long established British tradition. They dress for the occasion and enjoy the mutual interest and camaraderie of their like-minded associates. New friendships will be forged, old ones renewed on what may be for many the only occasion they will meet this year. Beyond the misted breath and excitement, there will be feasting and drink and merriment. The ruddy faces of the children will beam with exhilaration. Time away from the TV and the game console, enjoying the open air, will long be remembered and they will almost certainly do it again next year. It’s November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night, bonfire night. Call it what you will. Cruel, barbaric, needless, out-dated? For tonight, hundreds of thousands of domestic pets will tremble in cover as the flash and fury and noise disturbs their senses. Wild creatures will flee their roosts and their cover to distance themselves from the ‘threat’. Even herd animals will cower in corners if close to the bonfire night barrage. Worst of all, a thousand hedgehogs (that most innocuous of mammals) will be baked tonight as folk crowd around the fire to clap and cheer. Forget all that nonsense about checking the stack for ‘furzepigs’. We all know that a threatened hedgehog curls up into a ball and doesn’t move.
Do I advocate banning Guy Fawkes Night? Of course not. It has become a tradition and no tradition should be sacrificed willingly … but let’s get things in perspective here please? If fox-hunting has to be banned on the basis of speculative ‘cruelty’ and ‘outdated tradition’, then why haven’t fireworks and bonfires (unchallengeable sources of animal stress and death) been outlawed? Why aren’t the ‘anti’s’ concentrating on this? Too controversial? Just saying.
©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, November 5th 2015
Just a short post on a very calm September night here in Norfolk where it is so temperate I’m sitting out on the garden deck in a T-shirt at 10pm. If I get mightily sick of the constant war of words between anti’s and shooters I have to say I am more saddened by the internal conflicts of those who support the right to hunt, shoot and fish. Don’t we all stand for the same principles? Call me naive, but why does Robin Page attack the BBC and Packham (I’m on the same train there) yet also round on the Countryside Alliance, who do so much to protect the validity of country-sports?. I would love to have the opportunity write a column for the Telegraph or Guardian stating the ‘view from the field and wood’ but I doubt I will ever get the chance. If I did, it wouldn’t involve the personal rants and politicisation of country affairs (or urban v. rural affairs) that Page, Monbiot and others post. Mother Nature isn’t interested in politics, tribalism, class or culture. She just does what she does. And that’s what I like to write about.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, September 2015