Caught in the Crosshairs

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Caught in the Crosshairs

By Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive, League Against Cruel Sports 

He was enraged that I said that his predilection for setting packs of dogs onto animals for sport was a form of ritual and serial animal abuse. The hunters and shooters do not like being called abusers.

The changing face of public and political debate in the UK is very interesting. What we are seeing unfold is a fairly dramatic shift from a “rights” based agenda to an agenda based on “responsibilities”. The idea of a freedom or a right to be cruel to animals for sport is now seen as nonsensical and the language is all about concern for the environment and for animals. The hunters and shooters just don’t get it.

Recent ghastly events in Arizona should come as a wake up call to everyone involved in the public debate over policy. The nature of some pro-hunting and shooting people’s hate was made very clear to me by the number of bullet holes in an old League Sanctuary sign. The organisation, its properties and the people who work for it and or are associated with it, are targets. Shot at as evidenced by the attacks on signs, gate posts, and windows and employees, all of which have been targeted.

I well remember the visceral hate I experienced when walking onto College Green in Westminster to be interviewed on the day that many hunters had brought hounds on leads to the Green, as a part of their protest against the possible passage of the Hunting Bill.

As I walked onto the green to do a BBC interview, supporters of the Countryside Alliance were busy sticking Alliance stickers onto my jacket and as fast as they were being stuck on, the BBC people were taking them off because they didn’t want them on camera. I particularly remember one man who after the interview I had recorded said in a hiss, “how dare you Sir”, as if somehow I had no right to express an opinion with which he disagreed. Clearly I was not welcome and nor were my views.

At a personal level I have always thought that hunters and hunt supporters were people who had rather lost their way. When in debate with them, I have not used the language of hate and division, rather I have said they are misguided souls to be pitied and who need to learn new ways. In many ways this has enraged them further.

The previous chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Simon Hart, once said in debate with me in Cambridge that I should not and could not fairly accuse him of being an abuser of animals for sport. He was enraged that I said that his predilection for setting packs of dogs onto animals for sport was a form of ritual and serial animal abuse. The hunters and shooters do not like being called abusers.

In a political sense, one of the really big debates is what are and where should be the boundaries to personal freedom and personal responsibility? When a hunter declares an opponent to be an enemy they make them, at least in the eyes of some, a legitimate target, and in effect whether they intend it or not, they seem to legitimise violent action taken against those that they declare to be their enemies. Hunts and shoots are responsible for actions taken against monitors.

When it comes to guns and children each ghastly incident tells us that it is not a good idea to have guns in the hands of the young, the irresponsible or the people who feel that their firearms are an extension of their power. It seems increasingly clear that possession of and use of firearms should be restricted to adults with a proven need for a gun and the proven skills and competence to use it, in the same way as we restrict would be drivers access to vehicles on the public highway.

I found it heartening that the Spanish television station RTVE has decided that bullfighting should not be shown on television during the hours at which children may be watching. In Spain, that means not before 10PM. The bullfighters are up in arms, because that means that they will loose all their primetime TV slots and that advertisers will drastically reduce the amounts that they are prepared to pay for ringside and commercial interval advertising that was being beamed to millions of viewers.

In the UK it would be a wonderful advance if it were agreed that all bloodsports should not be televised or broadcast on the radio before the watershed. Gone would be the pictures of hunts and shoots, and even the Archers would have to drop its support for bloodsports as a country pursuits.

The changing face of public and political debate in the UK is very interesting. What we are seeing unfold is a fairly dramatic shift from a “rights” based agenda to an agenda based on “responsibilities”. The idea of a freedom or a right to be cruel to animals for sport is now seen as nonsensical and the language is all about concern for the environment and for animals. The hunters and shooters just don’t get it.

To give but one example of the new paradigm shift, planned legislation on dangerous dogs is moving in the direction of DOGBOs, a new form of animal ASBO targeted at the owner and the controller of a dangerous or threatening dog. A good example of legislation placing a clear responsibility on the dog owner and or controller rather than declaring the dog dangerous on a breed defined basis.

For the hunts, DOGBOs are a disaster waiting to happen. At the moment lots of them sit back and let the hounds run ahead and then claim that what happens is an accident and nothing to do with them. As pets get killed, land is trespassed over and accidents happen on roads and railway lines, week by week, the case for DOGBOs for hunting hounds builds. Hounds should be individually dog tagged, should wear ID collars and should be on leads if on the public highway. Any individual walking or exercising a group of eight or more hounds should be required to seek written permission of the person on whose land the dogs are being exercised and of course should scoop the poop. What reasonable hunt and or hunter could object to such conditions?

Meanwhile there are disturbing signs of hunters and shooters working behind the scenes to effect changes designed to suit their purpose and to frustrate the general public view of their cruel and unnecessary bloodsports. In Scotland and Northern Ireland behind the scenes interventions by supporters of shooting have led to codes of practice supporting the use of snares and in Wales and in England, pressure form the field sports lobby amongst others has led to government proposals that badger culling by shooting be allowed despite the lack of scientific evidence supporting such culls as being the most cost effective solution to the BTB problems.

The is a nasty smell in the corridors of power in Stormont, Holyrood, Cardiff and Westminster, with regard to the way in which some politicians feel that they have to give in to the gun lobby. It seems that when the gun lobby put the cross hairs on some of our politicians, they take cover and or make concessions that they should not make and which do not have the support of the majority of voters. In this country we don’t talk about the Tea Party movement, but we do seem to have our own version of it in the stirrup cup and hip flask brigade. Being put in the cross hairs of the metaphorical guns of the bloodsports extremists is not comfy territory for anyone, but that said, we expect our politicians to say no to extremists. Saying no to guns and to killing for sport is what we need and what we should ask from all our politicians.