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Response to hunter ed controversy wide-ranging

The courtroom of public opinion has delivered a split decision in the case of Tri-Cities hunter education instructor Clare Cranston.

Last week’s column detailed how the state decertified the 79-year-old veteran instructor for treating young students with the sensitivity of a military boot-camp sergeant.

The issue involves issues important to hunting as well as to nearly 1,000 volunteer hunter education instructors in Washington and the 14,000 students they teach each year.

Comments on the column, which was published in several papers across the region, ranged from extremes.

“Cranston’s a big bully,” said a Tri-Cities resident who called after reading the story. “Other instructors are effective without going off the wall like he does.”

Another reader praised the instructor succinctly: “Dick Cheney should have taken a class from Cranston.”

Cranston says he grabbed a 9-year-old boy during a class and sternly corrected him for pointing an unloaded gun in the direction of other students. The entire class had been warned that pointing any gun in the direction of people would result in failing the class.

The boy’s father said he witnessed the event and maintained the boy did not point the gun at students. He complained that Cranston was unnecessarily mean and made the boy cry.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department investigated three written complaints from that same class dealing with Cranston’s demeanor. Officials investigated and determined they had to take some sort of action.

A good portion of the fallout from my column has targeted the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department for ultimately decertifying Cranston.

I have a ream of letters, emails and legal documents that show the department put considerable time into Cranston’s case all the way to the top of the agency, as well as the attorney general’s office. The correspondence is always polite and respectful for the years of Cranston’s volunteer service.

Officials clearly were between the rock of complaints with legal ramifications and the hard place of dealing with dedicated hunter education instructors.

When it all shook out, if Cranston would have apologized to the kid and attended a “classroom management methods” training session, everything would have simmered down.

Cranston would still be teaching. Several other Tri-Cities instructors would not have resigned. Two spring classes would not have been canceled for lack of a lead instructor. The WDFW would not have had to be painted black with criticism in the past week.

With a bow to seniority, service and pride, it’s not clear the fallout is entirely the agency’s fault.

What matters most is that all the emotion and energy invested in this issue be used to move the state’s hunter ed program ahead.

Instructors have told me they have confidence that Capt. Eric Anderson, the new program administrator, has the knowledge and integrity to do that.

These instructors who have commented directly preferred to look at the big picture and zero in on critical issues.

Here’s a sampling of their comments:

“This is not a slap in this instructor’s face; it’s a wake-up call for the rest of us.”

A Hunter Education Advisory Committee already is looking into rewriting the policies and procedures for the classes with a section on liabilities.

Parties involved can quibble about the validity of the grievances, but the bottom line is that “the complaints are real.”

As a state with the most liberal age requirements in the nation for hunting – none! – we must reconsider whether kids with single-digit ages are mature enough to enroll in hunter education and obtain a hunting license.

Regardless of the teaching methods we standardize, muzzle control should continue to be the No. 1 firearms safety lesson, with zero tolerance for unsafe gun-handling.

Hunter education instructors must be firm and non-negotiable on muzzle control, one former instructor emphasized.

“If an instructor gets a little gruff ramming home that point, so be it,” he said.

“The police don’t yell at you if you haven’t learned that lesson. They shoot you.”