Children, guns and common sense

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

Christmas is for the most part a time of goodwill and cheer. What is so sad is that some people turn it into something else altogether.

You have to wonder about the Boxing Day hunts and shoots. Why at a time of goodwill to all men do some people feel the need to go out and kill animals for fun? Worse still, the people who do these things take their spouses and children along as well.

Both shooting and hunting have predominantly male followings. Yes, there are women and children involved as well, but these activities are a primarily male pursuit. So what is it in the male psyche that attracts them to killing for sport?

The people involved in hunting and shooting for sport are for the most part over the age of forty. Some are wealthy, many are not. Some are from public school backgrounds, many are not. Some sound incredibly posh, most do not. Yet these people are a distinct group insofar as they go out and play together. So what is it that binds them together? What is it that they have in common? That is the question that should be asked.

The hunters and shooters like to play the class card. They claim that those who oppose them are engaged in some sort of class war, yet we know that social class does not define this group. What they share are their interests in domination, in chasing and in killing wild animals for sport.

It is a good idea to look first at dominance as a reason why some people hunt and shoot. The power of life and death over other beings is a demonstration of dominance. The bull fight where the matador and his team dominate and then kill a bull in the ring is not so different from the traditional organised stag hunt, where the huntsman and his team hunt the stag till it can no longer run and stands at bay. Both activities attract a crowd of followers, people who presumably want to see this contest between man and beast.

The fox hunt is also no different in that it is another contest between man and beast. The packs of dogs are set onto the trail of the fox, for sport. The followers are the spectators, the huntsman and the other hunt servants involved are the dominators who seek to show their prowess at killing.

When it comes to shooting, it is a case of anyone with a gun can play dominator or dominatrix. In that sense shooting is a very inclusive blood sport, where anyone can kill for fun.

So what is this fascination with dominance and death really all about? It isn’t just like the inevitable fascination or curiosity that people have for the scene of an accident. It is much more and much darker than that. The hunters and the shooters are people who want to participate in the chase and the kill. These are not for the most part mere spectators, at the scene. They are in many cases people who want to play a part, however small in the chase and the kill.

One has to ask what it is about the dominance of chasing and killing that these people find so attractive. What sort of personality needs the ego boost of being able to dominate and kill? What personality type needs the power kick that comes from chasing an animal around the countryside before it is killed?

The hunters and shooters are remarkably reluctant to talk about their motives. The hunting world is full of ritual and symbols; whips and horns, masters and servants, and terrier men. There is a clear hierarchy where the master rules and the men do the dirty work. The shooting world is less obviously divided other than between the people with the guns and the rest, but hierarchies remain.

I find it fascinating that shooting is predominantly the sport of middle and older aged men. It is as if, having reached a certain age where physical dominance is no longer their preserve, shooting provides the middle aged male with a power extension, a further chance to prove their dominance to their peers and to anyone else who watches and feigns interest.

When I have accused the shooting lobby in the past of being a primarily male preserve, they have been quick to tell me that they are bringing on the women and children. Young children are being taught to chase and to kill for sport. ‘Pity the poor children’, would be most peoples response to that.

I was particularly shocked this week by the story about a ten year-old girl who had been taught to shoot by her father. Now aged twelve, she said that she was doing it for the farmers who needed these animals to be controlled. A child with a gun, before the age of criminal responsibility, is a reality that most parents would find unacceptable.

The child in question was taught to use a shotgun, first on targets and then on live ‘vermin’. Now she uses her gun on pheasants. The ghastly reality of this is that here is a child being taught to kill and earning praise for doing so.

In the world of hunting and shooting initiating the children to chasing and killing for sport must seem like a validation of the adult’s pursuits. What such exposure to killing does to children is not well researched, but history tells us that some must be adversely affected by it. The concern is that if you look to America where there are far more guns, there are clear examples of what can happen when children have access to firearms. It may not happen often, and it may not be a huge risk here, but why take that risk at all?

There is no legal minimum age for possession of a shotgun certificate. Firearms are more restricted but can still be used by children over the age of 14. Surely we should be looking at all firearms and shotguns as being potentially lethal weapons, and treating them like cars. No one should be allowed access to a gun before they have passed a written and practical test (on non animal targets) so that we can be assured that they have the knowledge and skill to use it safely and humanely.

Bloodsports are all about dominance and killing for sport. These activities are not necessary and are therefore by self definition cruel because they cause unnecessary suffering. Those who engage in them are not of a class, they are sadly people with an unhealthy interest in dominance.

In our civilised society my Christmas wish is that no child should be licensed to use a gun to kill. It would be made an offence to teach a minor to kill for sport. I feel that no life should be so cheap that it can be snuffed out for sport and entertainment by either a child or adult.

So at this time of goodwill, let’s have a bit of common sense about our attitudes to hunting and killing for sport. We are not engaged in a class war, we are seeking to put an end to human acts of lethal dominance for sport and entertainment. This in not the Roman Empire anymore, with its festivals of death as public entertainment, this is for the most part a civilised society. It is high time we made all acts of cruelty by dominance for sport a crime.

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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    mhayworth said,

    The link between animal cruelty and human cruelty is obvious to all except a minority who view this as some sort of God-given right. I think those in charge of the hunts have much in common with those who seek out and abuse positions of control. If you look at the horrendous records of cruelty and neglect – particularly in homes for the elderly or disabled, you can see how a particular type of person actually thrives on that sense of control over the helpless. Prolonged suffering is evident as so many care residents have been found with internal injuries or malnourished over long periods of time. You have to wonder what is lacking in these people who view the world only in terms of it’s affect on themselves.

    When we talk about cruelty to animals, some say that rural people have a completely different view about animals because of their role in food production – but now that farmers are speaking out against hunting with dogs, it seems there is a significant divide even in the countryside. In fact, many who admit openly to shooting animals are saying that hunting with dogs is in fact cruel and completely unnecessary. The pro-hunt community speaks about ‘their’ countryside as something ‘we’ have no knowledge of or have no right to get involved in – as though they actually own all of it – like one large parcel of land. Again, a very warped sense of control and ownership.

    It would be interesting to know the history of these families and to look for some common ground. While I wouldn’t necessarily compare human slavery to hunting animals with dogs, if you read the arguments from the pro-slavery lobby (leading up to the Emancipation Act) you will find their arguments eerily similar to those we see in the pro-hunt media almost daily now. Again – the arguments of people with an unhealthy sense of control and ownership over other beings. Possibly one handed down through generations. Quite disturbing really!

  2. 2

    “Why at a time of goodwill to all men do some people feel the need to go out and kill animals for fun?”

    Why, indeed.

    We British led the way in banning the slave trade and in banning slavery in the Empire, we led the way in banning bear baiting and cock fighting, and we led the way in banning hunting and hare coursing. We must continue to make progress and not let our civilisation take a backward step.

    Please help by signing my NoToHareCoursing E-Petition at –

  3. 3

    auntykill said,

    A true test of a person’s character and compassion is how they use the power they have over animals. Power can be used in a constructive way to improve and safeguard the lives of creatures who don’t have the privileges of being human or it can be used to subdue or destroy the lives of those same creatures. It is those people who choose to abuse their power over animals that worry me. To maim and kill animals for their own sport is bad enough but to encourage children and bring them up to regard the casual taking of life as normal and enjoyable is, to me, abusing those children. It is well known and documented that children who have a sadistic streak where animals are concerned then grow up and go on to abuse sadistically children and other adults, so who in their right minds would encourage children to develop a lust to kill?
    And how can someone who got up in the morning and got ready for a day out in the countryside shooting or chasing animals to exhaustion and then came home had their evening meal and a drink then go to bed and sleep when murder is on their conscience? It beats me, and always has, how someone can view a day of celebration either for religion or for the more worldy aspect of Christmas as a perfect day to go out and blast or rip to oblivion creatures that struggle day after day to survive only to be casually wiped out by someone with an extra day’s holiday from work.

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