Tucson isn’t that far from Spokane.
News that a shooter killed six people and gravely wounded an Arizona congresswoman last Saturday surely must have filtered into every nook and cranny of the Inland Northwest by Tuesday.
Rhetoric that induces hate and violence was being condemned across the country from a spectrum of social, religious and political persuasions.
But on Tuesday night, a man in Spokane blurted a phrase at a public meeting that rattled my sensibilities and haunted me for days.
Even if they are the words of an imbecile, the phrase stands as a statement that we’re mired in a backwater of insolence.
The director of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department was giving a talk on the grim impacts the state’s budget crisis is having on his agency and wildlife manage- ment. The public meeting was held at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council auditorium at Francis and Market. The room was filled with several dozen hunters and anglers.
During the questions period, one man brought up the controversial issue of wolf reintroduction. The hunter made it clear he wanted to get rid of wolves because of their impact on big-game herds and livestock.
Director Phil Anderson suggested that wolves weren’t pertinent to the topic of his presentation, but the man persisted.
Anderson conceded and politely summarized the saga of wolf reintroduction. He detailed how wolf hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho were canceled last fall by a federal lawsuit and how Washington is developing a wolf management plan.
Pending a new court ruling, Anderson explained, wolves are federally protected as endangered species.
Unless the law is changed, “we don’t have the authority to be shooting wolves,” he said.
A response blurted out from the middle of the room:
“Why don’t we shoot some legislators?” a man said.
Several people gasped. Anderson stood speechless at the front of the room.
A few men quietly commented “That’s not funny,” and “You can’t say that.”
Anderson moved the meeting on, but the man’s phrase was a smoldering ember that needed to be doused.
It seemed that one hunter should have stood up, commanded everyone’s attention, and said, “Excuse me. Before we continue, it’s important to point out that comment was deeply disrespectful to all elected officials and just as deeply offensive to anyone who calls himself a sportsman.”
The sport of hunting hinges on equal portions of gun rights, firearms safety and restraint.
Hunters are taught to never point a gun at something they don’t intend to shoot. Words should be considered just as damaging as bullets.
In procuring meat for their tables, hunters see and touch the devastation a bullet inflicts on living tissue. Only a doctor or a shooting victim should understand the seriousness of a gunshot wound more intimately than a hunter.
What does it say about our sportsmen’s culture if a man can feel comfortable in a large group of people spouting a shooting metaphor for his dissatisfaction with lawmakers?
If the man had stood up and spewed a string of vulgarities toward public officials, he likely would have been asked to leave the auditorium. After all, children were in the room.
Consider the consequences if one of those children were to play out his frustrations at school next week by suggesting, “Why don’t we shoot the teacher?”
As the 2010 political campaigns were revving up, a tea party activist in Clarkston raised a big stink by suggesting metaphorically that Sen. Patty Murray should be hung for her political stands. The crowd laughed, but people who knew the senator’s life had been threatened by others were not amused.
The comment was scrutinized by the public and media and now it’s bilge under the bridge.
But that was in February.
The Spokane man’s figurative call to “shoot some legislators” came days before the first of the Tucson dead would be buried.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had yet to open her eyes from an assassin’s gunshot to her head.
If Tuesday wasn’t a day for civility, is there any hope that day will arrive?
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