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Bald eagle shooting raises gun concerns

Mike Ford
Posted 1/6/16

FLEMING ISLAND – Though the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found no suspects in a recent bald eagle shooting, the witness reported seeing two young boys with air rifles at the time. State law …

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Bald eagle shooting raises gun concerns


Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – Though the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found no suspects in a recent bald eagle shooting, the witness reported seeing two young boys with air rifles at the time. State law mandates those younger than 16 years to have adult supervision when shooting a firearm and gun safety experts are raising concerns.

There was also a hawk shooting prior to the eagle being shot and Steve Robbins, FWC Hunter Safety Coordinator, said if either protected bird was shot by a child, the crime is the parents’ fault.

“When something like this happens, it’s the parents’ fault. The child has to have parental supervision to shoot that firearm until they are 16 and the parent is still responsible until the child turns 18,” Robbins said.

Robbins also said safety training is required for a state hunting license, but he doesn’t believe the eagle shooting has anything to do with hunting or a local culture where hunting is valued and hunting indoctrination of youth is a right of passage.

“This is not a sportsman committing these acts. Whoever is doing this is a vagrant or doesn’t know any better. People who do this treat guns as a plaything and have no education on what hunting is all about,” he said.

Robbins said Americans have a long history of hunting going back to the nation’s founding when grocery stores didn’t exist. Some may question this as a need for hunting in modern America, but Robbins said there is a growing subculture that doesn’t want hormone-filled mass-produced meats from factory farms.

“I strongly urge anyone to take our hunter safety course to learn that we’ve always hunted for sustenance and game management since we landed on these shores,” he said. “There’s also a whole new group of people getting into hunting nationwide just because the meats sold in grocery stores are pumped full of hormones and they want food that’s better for them.”

With Christmas gifts having recently been bestowed, there may be additional weapons in the hands of Clay County youth. Orange Park Police Lt. John Jock said parents should lock those firearms up so kids can only use them on family outings to a gun range.

“If you’re going to get your kid a pellet gun, you should get them safety training. Parents have to take responsibility and they have to think things through. The rural parts of the county may be suitable for shooting, but where is that pellet going to end up? Will it ricochet off of something? Will it travel over a roadway? Parents have to think these things through, Jock said.

“It all boils down to parental supervision and education. To me, it’s pretty simple – make sure your kid knows what’s right and what’s wrong. The only way they’re going to know is if you train them.”

Green Cove Springs Police Chief Robert Musco said it’s important for parents to wait until a child is old enough to introduce them to a firearm. He said the weapon should be an air rifle or .22 caliber handgun – just as you wouldn’t buy an expensive sports car for a teen who just got his driver’s license.

“My children were taught at a young age not to touch daddy’s service weapon. I took them shooting growing up and I put them through safety training. They’re both grown up and have concealed weapons permits, but I taught them right from an early age, he said.

“It’s important for children and adults to respect a weapon and what it can do. You have to teach them from the get-go that it’s not a toy and you have to teach them to respect it. They have to understand it’s real – it’s not like the game where the zombie keeps getting up. If they respect the weapon, then you have a good foundation.”

Though pellet guns may be a good option to start out with, Jock said many air rifles today are more powerful than those in use in the 80s and 90s when today’s parents were young. He said these modern weapons shoot larger projectiles than the older ones did and this is one of the things parents need to think through.

“We don’t point guns at anything unless we intend to destroy it and that certainly does not include protected species of birds. I don’t recommend a parent buy a child a high-powered pellet gun, but if you’re going to do that, you have to take responsibility, Jock said.

“You have to put the time, thought and effort into the child’s training if you’re going to get them an air gun – even if they’re 16, but especially if they’re younger.”

For information on hunter safety training, visit myfwc.com and anyone who knows anything about either bird shooting can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Tip Line at 888-404-3922.