The Australian state of New South Wales is considering a law that would allow children as young as twelve years of age to go hunting by themselves, earning praise from the local hunting community and outrage from environmentalists and liberals.
According to a report in BBC, the hunting lobby believes the law will let children enjoy the outdoors while concurrently reducing the population of feral animals like rabbits, pigs, and foxes which are damaging the local environment and crops.
Under terms of the new law, as proposed by NSW’s Game Council, which advises the government, children aged 12 to 17 would be permitted to kill feral animals with bows and knives, without adult supervision. (They are already allowed to hunt as long as an adult accompanies them).
John Mumford, chairman of the Game Council, told BBC: "I don't see any reason why young kids can't come out and be taught to hunt responsibly, get them away from X-boxes, computer screens and those sorts of things. I don't see any harm in that."
He added: "I was doing that [hunting, killing animals] when I was 12 years old, so I can't really turn around and say to my kids that they shouldn't be doing that. It would teach them a bit of reliance, a bit of responsibility for their actions."
Opponents of the new law fear it will simply encourage kids to embrace gun violence and the murder of helpless animals.
"There is no doubt that the hunting lobby sees this as a nice intro for kids into a gun culture and a hunting culture," warned David Shoebridge, an MP representing Australia’s Green party in the state parliament.
"The very clear intent of the gun lobby is to normalize firearms. They want to see firearms as just like a tennis racket, just another piece of sporting equipment. They want to de-link firearms and the violence they cause from what they see as a legitimate sport of hunting and shooting.”
Shoebridge added: "Now there are legitimate elements to hunting and shooting but what we don't want is to glorify it and promote it as a widespread culture, because otherwise we are going to be normalizing firearms and we'll go down the same path the United States has where suddenly it becomes your right to have a gun. And that has never been the case here in New South Wales."
However, Australia, which was founded as a pioneer nation in the wild, untamed bush, has a long history of guns and a well-established hunting culture. Guns have played a dominant role in the domestication of the Outback, as well as the subjugation of the Aboriginal populations by white settlers.
According to GunPolicy.org, there are about 3.5 million privately owned firearms in the country, and as many as 6 million illegal weapons in the hands of civilians. According to government statistics, about 800,000 people (or 5 percent of the population) own firearms.
In 1996, following a mass shooting by a man named Martin Bryant who killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania (the worst mass murder in the country’s history) the Australian government imposed one of the toughest gun control programs in the world.
Then-Prime Minister John Howard declared: "I hate guns. One of the things I don't admire about America is their slavish love of guns ... We do not want the American disease imported into Australia."
The authorities bought and destroyed 650,000 privately held weapons – the government claimed this buyback dramatically reduced the number of gun-related suicides, although it appeared to have no meaningful impact on homicides.
The Australian federal government then pressured all states to impose tough new gun control laws – leading to, among other things, national registration of guns and an outright ban on certain types of weapons.
Guns and hunting are not quite the intense, polarizing issue that they are in the US, but there are conflicts Down Under on the rights to firearm ownership.
A group called Gun Control Australia (GCA) has targeted The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA), which it claims is seeking to erode Australia’s tough gun laws.
“No organization in Australia is working harder to destroy our successful gun laws than the SSAA; thus it has become an enormous danger to the future of our society,” GCA said in a statement.
“We call on the [Julia] Gillard government to break all ties with this ruthlessly selfish organization that has such close associations with America’s National Rifle Association (NRA) and the international gun and ammunition trade.”
GCA has also targeted Australia’s hunting community, accusing it of being allied to the gun lobby.
Referring to the province of Victoria, GCA cited the rising number of accidental hunting deaths due to poor training of gun owners.
“In the Victorian high country, about two and half decades ago, a deer hunter died when his friend’s… rifle, strapped to his backpack, fired when an overhanging branch triggered the cocked weapon,” GCA said.
“Since then, three others have died in deer hunting incidents in Victoria. One of these occurred at Warburton a decade ago when a careless hunter fired at a moving object which happened to be a local resident walking his dog. Fox and rabbit hunting incidents alone have claimed at least another four lives in this 25-year period.”
Now, if children are allowed to hunt independently from adult supervision, worries are rising of more tragedies in the future.
In response, SSAA, like their American brethren NRA, assert that civilians should own guns legally and that the government should go after criminals who acquire weapons illegally.
“For many years, licensed firearm owners have borne the brunt of misguided firearm law reforms aimed at placating the public rather than tackling the root of the problem,” SSAA declared.
“It is the criminal element using illegal firearms that have always been the problem in Australia.”