Jan 19, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Some phone calls are unexpected. Some are out of the blue. And some you'd have to figure an icy cold front just whipped through Hades.

I had such a phone call on Monday. A man called my cell phone while I was sipping a nice Guatemalan coffee at Redeye Roasters. His first line was "Here's a call you weren't expecting - it's the infamous Hingham hunter." And, no, for those of you who fondly recall the 2010 Goosegate controversy I was not expecting a call from David Schutz.

Dave wanted to talk to me about a well-publicized recent incident where a hunter in Norton mistakenly shot a woman out walking her two dogs. He thought she was a deer. Now, I'm no hunter but I'm pretty sure I'd be able to distinguish between Bambi and a 66-year-old woman walking a couple of dogs.

The woman, Cheryl Blair, has undergone a whopping seven surgeries since the New Year's Eve shooting. You can read about her current condition here.

So why did Dave want to talk to me? Besides praying for Mrs Blair -- which I have been doing -- I couldn't imagine much more I could do. Some clergy have been known to offer a Blessing of the Hunt at the start of hunting season but that hardly seemed appropriate in this case.

It turns out that since our well-documented, AP wire encounter, Dave created an organization called The Sportsmen's Alliance (yes, TSA). The purpose of the group is to educate the public about hunting laws in general and advocate for ethical hunting practices amid hunters themselves.

According to Dave, the hunter in Norton saw a deer earlier in the day and assumed the movement he later observed was the deer's tail. Two problems here: when hunting you must be 100% sure of the target -- there's no "I think" when it comes to the discharge of a potentially deadly weapon -- and you never shoot a deer in the tail which will injure but not kill the animal. Needless to say, Dave was outraged at what he considers the unethical and immoral actions of the hunter involved. You can read some of his comments on the issue here.

One other wrinkle to this case: the hunter is a Massachusetts State Trooper. The state has not filed criminal charges nor have they taken away his hunting license. Dave's group is not calling for the hunter to be jailed but is adamant that his license to hunt be taken away. As he put it to a group of fellow hunters regarding law enforcement, "If they won’t step up to stop a bad hunter, how can we depend on them to protect good, responsible and lawful ones?"

It is on this issue where Dave sought out common ground with a known opponent of hunting. Of course, as I said from the very beginning of Goosegate, I am not opposed to hunting but I am opposed to hunting at the Hingham Bathing Beach. In fact, a couple of months ago a hunter in the parish brought me some of his famous pheasant stew after a trip to Vermont, which was decidedly savory.

Nonetheless, I do agree with Dave that at a minimum the hunting license should be revoked and I'd be willing to sign his petition to make this happen. It reads as follows:

We the undersigned, support the efforts of The Sportsmen’s Alliance  to promote public safety and the laws relating to hunting in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the benefit of the public and responsible hunters. Towards this objective and consistent with Mass. General Law Ch. 131 sec. 60 - Negligent or careless use of a  weapon, causing injury or death, we demand that the hunting license of Mr. John Bergeron be revoked for what we believe to be careless and negligent use of a hunting rifle that seriously and permanently injured Mrs. Cheryl Blair.

If you live in Hingham, you'll likely see this petition at some point and I wouldn't be surprised if an online version makes the rounds as well. As I told Dave, I won't be circulating this at church (for obvious reasons) but I'm happy to write about it here.

Following our phone call, we agreed to chat in my office the next day. We had a wide-ranging conversation on a number of topics, including hunting. While you'll never catch me out stalking antelope and while I'll never support hunting along Hingham Harbor, this is yet another reminder that nothing beats face-to-face conversation. I actually liked the guy. A lot. And as he was leaving he even joked about me not having horns after all.

Media wars and the vilification that comes from dehumanizing online anonymous comments only widen the gaps between people of differing views. Actually speaking to someone remains the best way to break down barriers between people.

I thank Dave for reminding me of this. Plus he said he'd bring me a goose one of these days (hopefully already plucked).


Meredith Gould said...

I love this story and how it reveals...lots of stuff: the power of the written word, of humor, of ministry. I also have a comment to make about why you don't have horns, but will take that off-line.

Dave said...

Thank you Tim,

But I'm not plucking that Goose!

We shall do this together, I'm thinking.

I'm glad to have met you and appreciate your support in this important issue and our mutual efforts to do what we can in the interest of public safety.

David Schutz
President - The Sportsmen's Alliance
Hingham, MA