Arms-bearing Americans are rarely wrong
By Stephen Robinson
If you have never gone hunting in Texas, you may find it odd that the man shot in the face by Vice-President Dick Cheney at the weekend was adjudged to be the guilty party.
Katharine Armstrong, the hostess of the hunting weekend, was clear in her own mind that Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old lawyer now resting comfortably in his hospital bed, was the author of his own misfortune.
On Saturday evening, Harry broke free from a group of friends to retrieve a downed quail, and then - according to Ms Armstrong - strode back without observing the proper southern protocol of noisily announcing himself to the rest of the group.
When another quail was flushed, Mr Cheney, "an excellent, conscientious shot", according to Ms Armstrong, swung to his right, fired, and Harry "got peppered pretty good".
According to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Harry is doing fine in hospital, though we do not have his reaction in his own words.
British readers will cluck with disapproval at this breezy exoneration of a former US Defence Secretary for his responsibility in such an ugly outbreak of friendly fire.
The sort of person on this side of the Atlantic who deplores America's "gun culture" will almost certainly despise Mr Cheney's politics, and wish to see him carted off by a Texas sheriff and charged with reckless endangerment. But as one who, during seven years of living in America, occasionally went duck shooting - or huntin', as I learnt to call it - I confess that I loudly cheer the Vice-President's speedy exculpation.
In Britain, the man with the gun is always at fault. Our culture and our law enforcement agencies deplore gun ownership; rural police forces persecute owners, treating them as freaks.
Viscount Whitelaw, a blameless and splendid man, never recovered from a simple error on the moor when his shotgun accidentally discharged, winging a beater and spraying an old friend in the bottom.
It could have happened to anyone, but poor old Willie was forced to give up the sport he loved, such was the tabloids' glee at his misfortune.
Our world-beating Olympic shooters must practise abroad because of the post-Dunblane handgun ban - a ban ignored by gangsters on the streets of our larger cities, whose criminal antics have driven an exponential rise in gun crime since the legislation was passed.
This could never happen in America, where gun ownership is not just constitutionally protected, but is part of a great levelling exercise. In many of the southern states, the first day of the hunting season is a school holiday, so that fathers can take their sons out with rifle, shotgun, and paramilitary fatigues.
Hunting is an affirmation of the frontier spirit of the nation. More, it is a celebration of democratic participation - not, as is the case over here, an exclusive club for social climbers in plus fours.
Pretty much every road sign in Texas, Arkansas and Virginia is peppered with holes, testimony to the relentless zeal of southern men honing their marksmanship skills in the close season.
When I moved to America, I acquired my first and only gun - a pump-action 12-bore, which I kept under the sofa in my Washington home and which I would bring out to appal namby-pamby visitors from England.
It was a beauty. As the man in the gun shop told me, it had an extra large stock so that - in theory - it could double as a paddle as I made my way across the bayou in pursuit of duck or goose.
The first time I was taken duck hunting, my hosts and I chanced on half a dozen ducks paddling genially across a lake. Before I could begin to consider the implications, my comrades had unleashed a volley of covering fire, turning the lake into a cauldron of shot and feather.
When I questioned the protocol of shooting birds that were not actually flying, I was kindly put in my place. They all taste the same, I was informed, especially if you have drunk enough bourbon while feathering them.
In America, you do all the gruesome stuff involving feathers and innards yourself, and you would never even think of handing over the menial work to a gamekeeper or beater.
Americans are amazed to hear of the weird layers of etiquette imposed on the act of shooting your supper in this country. When George Bush Snr, a handy quail hunter in his home terrain of Texas, found himself at one of the stiffer sorts of driven shoots in Europe a few years ago, he fluffed every shot.
He told his hosts that he was thrown because European game birds are driven towards the guns, while Texas quail are shot flying away.
But my guess is that the protocol got to him. Mr Bush was thinking supper, yet knew his hosts were worrying about the angle at which he carried his gun, or the cut of his tweeds, or whether he swung his barrel too much to the left or right, or that he might be regarded - horror of horrors! - as greedy.
No wonder Mr Bush couldn't perform at his best, and no doubt he would have been much happier shooting in Texas, where everything is more relaxed and you don't fear the cold stare of disapproval for having the temerity to pick up a shotgun.
And where it is always wise to remember, to adapt the preferred slogan of America's all-powerful National Rifle Association, that guns do not kill people; vice-presidents do.
It seems that VP Cheney is now in a bit of trouble with the game and fish wardens.
Altho he shot a lawyer and the season is open year round on lawyers it is still illegal to shoot them on a baited field.
It seems that due to his heart condition an ambulance follows the VP everywhere he goes. The lawyer was shot within 300 feet of the ambulance so that constitutes a baited field.
NRA Endowment Member
Keep Your Powder Dry
That was an interesting article. But it seems like were catching up to the UK, thanks to the main stream media. You know, weapons are a bad thing, evil ... As a matter of fact, my handgun went running down the street last night, shooting at anything that moved. I had to chase it down, then give it a good spanking for being bad. lol
It kind of portrays American gun owners as drunkards that shoot ducks just sitting on the water. I feel sorry for the people in the UK, as a whole of the people that is. It must suck to be turned into a criminal for defending yourself.
History is easily forgotten.
"But the simple truth--born of experience--is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people."
Judge Alex Kozinski - United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
- Thomas Paine
Thanks for the article. I'm always interested in other cultures' ideas and opinions.
Too bad so many people believe that it's got to be "our way or the highway".
I had a really good friend who was an officer in the British Army. He was attache at Fort Bragg. He learned a lot, but also taught a lot. He ended his career after being in charge of unexploded bombs in the UK. He made a parachute jump when he was 78 years old, during the 50 year observance of D-Day.
The British are also our best and one of our oldest allies. Sometimes it's best to stop and think about who our friends are before making cliche comments.
The Brits ARE are our very oldest and most loyal allies in the entire world...we must ALWAYS remember that...
...but we STILL have to remember they were our very first and deadly ENEMY and the reason we EXIST as a country in the first place! We need to learn from, and ast the same time, respect the inherent differences of, EACH OTHER.
I kind of like his article, maybe with a few more years here, and some better friends to go "huntin'" with, he'll get the little things right too, he's already got a grip on the BIG stuff.
The problems we face today are
there because the people who work
for a living are outnumbered by those
who vote for a living.
Sure, we had to fight the British for independence. But our best ally then was France.
I have some really good French friends, too.
I was a military dependent in Paris in 1966 when DeGaul kicked the US out of France. Total strangers (French) would come up to me (recognizing me as American) and thank me profusely for what the US had done for them.