Children and hunting

Commencing in January, there no longer will be a minimum age for hunting in Maine.

Those under age 10 have been legally prohibited from shooting wildlife. Under changes in law passed in the last legislative session, there is no minimum age for a child hunter, provided he or she is “under the effective control” of an adult. The law specifically requires that the responsible adult be no further than 20 feet away, at all times.

Maine now joins 39 other states with no minimum hunting age.

Proponents argued successfully that parents should be the ones to determine whether or not their child, even one as young as five, six or seven, is capable of appropriately handling a bow or firearm. The wisdom of granting that discretion remains to be seen.

Children develop and learn at different rates. Undoubtedly, there are some children who are sufficiently mature and physically advanced at early ages. But there are just as many, perhaps more, who probably are not. The law now puts that decision squarely in the hands of a parent, the person least likely to be objective about that judgment.

Teaching children proper gun handling and safety from a young age is a positive way to assure development of a healthy respect for firearms. That can be done at home or in more-controlled environments. But when hunting on other people’s private property, perhaps in adverse weather conditions, and factoring in the thrill of the chase, there are many additional distractions for even the most mature hunter. And tragically, when accidents involving young children and guns occur, while hunting or on a shooting range, it is often the people closest to them, including family members, who are the ones hurt.

As proponents noted, getting kids involved with family and in the outdoors at a young age can keep them active throughout their lives. However, there are numerous avenues for doing so, short of handing someone not yet 10 years old a high-powered rifle or shotgun.

As a society, we do not believe parents are objective enough to be the sole decision makers regarding the age at which their offspring can drive a motor vehicle on public roads. The responsibility for deciding when and where a young child can go afield with a deadly weapon is no less significant.

Considering the solid support that removal of the minimum hunting age enjoyed from sporting groups, legislators and the governor, there may be little likelihood the move will be reconsidered. Meanwhile, one can only hope the decision does not become a tragic mistake.

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