Sunday, August 19, 2007

Governments chase ghosts to stop on-line myth
Aug. 17, 2007

Three years ago, a Texas body-shop estimator by the name of John Lockwood got the not-so-great idea of an on-line hunting business catering to hunters with disabilities.
One guy apparently did manage to use Lockwood’s Web cam setup to shoot a caged hog from the comfort of his own living room, or at least believed he had. But the concept never caught on, and Lockwood’s enterprise tanked within a matter of months.
Just another bad idea, gone almost as soon as it surfaced.
Except that the Humane Society of the United States got wind of Lockwood’s failed experiment, and turned it into one of the hottest legislative non-issues in years.
And the story of how that came to be the case is a discouraging reminder of our inability to focus on the things that really matter.
After hearing about Lockwood’s attempt at Internet hunting, the humane society sent out 50,000 flyers condemning it. The society implored legislators to stop “such horrific cruelty,” and launched a vigorous political campaign to ban Internet hunting coast to coast.
The campaign was very successful. Thirty-three states have passed laws to this point prohibiting the practice. A law to ban Internet hunting nationwide is making its way through Congress right now.
“It’s one of the fastest paces of reform for any animal issue that we can remember seeing,” humane society spokesman Michael Markarian told media outlets.
Unprecedented alliances were formed in opposition to Internet hunting. Animal-rights activists and the National Rifle Association were surprised to find themselves fighting on the same side.
“The NRA believes the element of a fair chase is a vital part of the American hunting heritage,” spokesman Kelly Hobbs told media. “Shooting an animal from three states away would not be considered a fair chase.”
Indeed. But in fact, Internet hunting wasn’t happening. Governments were working themselves up over a fiction, while any number of truly bad things went unattended to.
I wouldn’t want to calculate the time, energy and resources that went into 33 states passing laws against Internet hunting. And how many genuine issues were knocked off the discussion table just to make way for the non-issue that Lockwood inadvertently spawned?
The irony is that if Internet hunting had genuinely existed, governments wouldn’t have acted nearly as quickly to stop it, if at all.
Had there been an actual industry with private interests making money from it, hot-shot lobbyists would have been hired to defend the practice to government. Much money would have been thrown around to buy support.
Soon, an industry-funded organization would have surfaced - the Disabled Hunters Alliance, perhaps - to launch a court challenge alleging that a ban was discriminatory.
But with no Internet hunting going on, the state bans sailed right on through. Who’s going to bother fighting a law prohibiting something that isn’t happening in the first place?
To their credit, a handful of U.S. politicians did. Of the 3,563 state legislators nationwide who voted on Internet-hunting bans, 38 voted against the bans, the Seattle Times reported last weekend.
“Internet hunting would be wrong,” said one such legislator, Delaware’s Gerald Hocker. “But there’s a lot that would be wrong, if it were happening.”
Not surprisingly, most of the legislators who spearheaded campaigns to ban Internet hunting had never heard of the practice until the humane society brought it to their attention.
But they jumped on that bandwagon anyway - and aren’t climbing down even now despite word getting out that the whole thing was much ado about nothing.
“You just wonder, who would do something like this?” mused Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who sponsored a ban in his home state. (On-line news site noted cheekily: “As it turns out, nobody, really.”)
Melanie George Marshall, a Maryland representative who sponsored the call for a ban in her state, acknowledges that she’s newly aware that there’s no Internet hunting going on, but says it’s good to get on top of the issue anyway.
“What if someone started one of these sites in the six months that we’re not in session?” she asked. “We were able to proactively legislate for society.”
Uh-huh. And if everything was already coming up roses in the U.S. - no poverty, no 40 million people without medical coverage, no school shootings or people gunning down their wives and children in the family SUV - fair enough for governments to turn their minds to imaginary problems.
But that’s not the case. Like Canada, the U.S. is in the grip of significant social problems.
School drop-out rates among African-American and Hispanic students in the U.S. are close to 50 per cent. Gun-death rates are higher by far than in any other Western country. There’s an unpopular war continuing in Iraq that’s costing citizens a staggering $475 million a day, and an increasingly unpopular president.
In other words, the country’s got a lot of things to sort out. Internet hunting isn’t one of them.

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