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Gun Safety Lessons for Dead-Eye Dick

Dick Cheney.jpg
Well, here’s something I didn’t think I’d ever be doing on this blog. Quoting from the NRA Gun Safety section of their website:

The fundamental NRA rules for safe gun handling are:

1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.

2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot….

3. ALWAYS…[w]henever you pick up a gun, immediately engage the safety device if possible….(emphasis mine)

We have a lot of readers who are also hunters. And all of them are saying the same thing — the person shooting the gun is primarily responsible for what happens with that gun. Period. And the consensus of the real hunters in our comments is — what an idiot. From dex:

The White House spinners have a tough job on this one because they need to misdirect the story from Cheney’s negligence and irresponsibility to some other area of lesser damage. But there really isn’t any sensible area to take it to, other than the fact that Cheney was careless, indifferent to all hunting safety rules and then, to top it off, hoped to cover the story up completely. I’m sure that the victim, when he’s finally briefed on what to say, will laugh it off as a fluke accident which could happen to anybody, but the truth is that it happens to very, very few. I spent my youth hunting in the woods and fields of Mississippi and I never got "sprayed" by any of the young people I hunted with…because we handled weapons sensibly.

And this from reader Zergle:

The most consistent thing I heard though is why was he aiming so low? Was the quail already down and he was trying to finish it off? Most say that when quail hunting, you almost never lower your gone past 45 degrees for obvious safety concerns. Plus it’s just more sporting to hit a moving target in the air. As one said, "if I wanted to shoot birds on the ground, I’d just go by a bunch of frozen chickens and toss them around the yard."

I’m hearing that a lot in my e-mail as well. Shooting birds low to the ground just is not done. Especially when you are in a group with other people, and with hunting dogs, because there is too much risk for injury. (Just ask Mr. Whittington about that one.) There’s also this from immanentize:

There is one hunt load — I think remington produces it, for the 28 gauge which is brass shot, which might get the range to just about 30 yards.

Now, I have never packed my own cartridges, so I don’t know how many #6 fit into the 1/2 charge, but if this guy actually got at least fifty pellets in the face and neck, my guess is he was closer to 15 to 20 yards away. And therefor in full view….

I really just don’t see how this could have happened without arrogance or alcohol — or probably both.

And this from reader chris/tx:

Generally speaking – When quail hunting in groups, you usually fan out roughly in a line about 20-30 yards apart and walk forward. The bird dogs find and point to the birds. You would usually only fire in about a 150 degree radius in front of you.

If anybody ever "swung around", they would most likely be sent back to camp and never invited to hunt again.

And this from reader the hunter in the crowd:

Number one. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. But serious, ethical hunters always put safety in front of everything else, and they do their damndest not to shoot anyone or anything except their intended quarry.

Number two. If you shoot someone else, you, and you alone, are responsible. No excuses, no "he wasn’t supposed to be there" or "I didn’t see him." If you’re going to discharge weapons, you need to be certain you’re doing so safely. Nothing else is acceptable.

This explanation from reader Jeff is a very clear one:

First of all, I hate canned hunts. They are a big deal here in Texas, but where I come from (South Carolina) we would not consider it "hunting" to go assassinate a bunch of pen-raised birds and game. It is playtime for the rich and wannabe rich, period.

Second, I nearly choked when I read the account of Armstrong: "he came up behind them"….cause, what you normally do is approach shooters in their line of fire, right? And he "didn’t make any noise or alert them to his presence"… well, you use dogs to scare up the birds, not a whooping and hollering hunter, and anyone coming up behind a shooter and yelling really loud is quickly going to earn an uninvite to the next hunting or shooting party. "He got peppered….I’ve been peppered before myself…." Well, yeah, when you are bird hunting it is not unheard of to have shot fall on you at times, but getting an ICU-worthy blast to the head and neck is not "getting peppered," it’s getting "shot." And from even Armstrong’s friendly description, what happened appears to be that Cheney tracked a bird with his gun at roughly shoulder height, roughly 180 degrees, and then fired. YOU NEVER DO THIS, especially when you have other people in your party that you have not accounted for– because someone might be coming up behind you, ya know?

I think this is dangerous territory for Cheney et al. There is no good explanation for this, other than being drunk or stupid. Anti-gun people are going to hate the whole thing. Gun people like me are going to hate that he was such a complete idiot.

I think, as other have pointed out, that this is a microcosm of the whole administration:

1. Try to play tough, with a gun, or an army.

2. Fail to follow well-established rules, guidelines, and past experience (either out of ignorance or willful disregard, or both).

3. Get someone hurt or killed.

4. Try to keep the story under wraps for as long as possible.

5. When the story does come out, spin it so that there was no possible way the administration did anything wrong.

6. Blame someone else, where possible, blame the victim.

7. Make anyone who has a problem with it look like an un-American pussy.

Well, that pretty much sums the whole Administration up in one fell swoop, doesn’t it?

There there is this from Karl:

When quail hunting, the birds tend to flush within 5-10 yards of the hunters. They fly very low, up to eight feet off the ground depending on vegetation, and swerve around brush and trees.

Shotgunning is also very different from rifle shooting. The shooter looks only at the bird (or skeet) and relies on practice to fire the gun far enough ahead of the bird so the shot column intercepts it. Instead of looking down the barrel before shooting (a good way to miss every time), a shotgunning party relies on setting clear fire zones and knowing where the other members of the party are before shooting. It is common in both quail and dove hunting to shoot the foliage of a tree or bush (not Bush) when the bird flies behind or around it.

From the reporting so far, it looks like two errors were made. The birds flushed and flew behind the hunting line, so Cheney followed them into what is usually a no-fire zone since he thought it was clear. In addition, the victim seperated from the group and was not exercising due diligence when rejoining. Primary fault to Cheney, secondary to the victim.

And finally, this from reader Uranius Pelican, which is dead on (no pun intended).

At 30 yards, an open choke pattern would spread to have enough distance between pellets (at least 10 inches or a foot with a 28 guage) that it could not do the kind of damage that this guy apparently suffered.

Also 7 or 8 shot is tiny and therefore has less mass and carries less energy at the same veleocity. That means it won’t penetrate very far especially at 30 yards after it has been slowed greatly by the air resistance.

Most importantly, bird hunting accidents are almost always caused by one thing. People walking around with their gun off safety – ready to shoot in case a bird flushes. Shotguns are designed so that the safety is accessible to your thumb while your trigger finger is poised on the trigger.

Before I ever enter a field with someone I’ve never hunted with I stop and say OK, here’s the deal, "I will not hunt with anyone here who does not agree to keep their gun on safe at all times until the moment just before they pull the trigger. If you don’t want to do that tell me now and I’ll go hunt somewhere else."

The story they are telling doesn’t make sense to me. My guess is that Cheney’s open choke 28 guage gun was being carried off safety and that he dropped it or stumbled and it went off accidentally hitting his partner at about 15 yards range or less. Of course, the story that the victim approached from behind unnannounced and therefore was at fault sounds good to someone who has never hunted quail – but it’s a crock.

And finally, only a drunk, an asshole or a drunk asshole would ever shoot their partner or their dog.

And then there is this bit from one of the medical folks in the audience, reader LittleBit:

Speaking as a 20-year veteran of The-Big-ICU-In-Knife-And-Gun-Club-Territory, there is no way in hell that the victim is relatively uninjured.

Shotgun injuries are some of the worst cases I have taken care of, due to the spread-shot nature of the wounds. If the victim got "peppered" in the neck, there are waaaayyyy too many important structures in that small space (oh, like maybe one of the internal or external carotid arteries) for this to be a "no big deal" situation. If any of the pellets nicks a blood vessel, it may travel as far as it can go–I took care of a kid shot in the chest and some pellets eneded up in his ankle, blocking the bloodflow, leading to an amputation. In this situation, add to that the victim’s age and potential underlying medical problems–this is huge.

These days, God Almighty doesn’t get to stay in the ICU unless it is absolutely imperative that He do so.

This stinks worse than a gangrenous leg….

Don’t know about you guys, but that’s an awful lot of questions that need to be asked by the press corps, isn’t it? More to come.

UPDATE: You know, the more I think about it, the more I see this as a great teaching opportunity on gun safety for the NRA. Wonder if they will take it? I mean, gun safety is their top mission and all…I’m just saying.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com