In an awkwardly timed piece of news, a new Wisconsin bill would allow children to carry guns while hunting at any age — as long as they're accompanied by a "mentor." The bill, which passed the Republican-controlled state assembly by a 57-32 margin, trashes the previous restrictions on children carrying firearms, and still has to make it through the Republican-controlled state senate in December before Gov. Scott Walker would have a chance to sign it into law.
According to the existing laws, children must be at least 12 to hunt with their own gun — and they can only do that if they've completed a safety course and they're hunting with a parent or guardian. A child aged 10 or 11 can accompany their parent or guardian hunting without having gone through the safety course, but the pair can only have one gun (or bow, if that's their weapon of choice) and they must stay within arm's length of each other.
As of right now, children younger than 10 just have to wait — and that's exactly what Wisconsin state legislators have set out to change.
The new bill seeks to amend multiple strands of the existing law. First, of course, it would allow children of any age to go on a hunt. And secondly, it would get rid of the requirement that a mentor-mentee pair only have one gun between them. If it passes, a hunter would be able to take a five year-old son or daughter out into the woods, with both of them carrying a rifle.
“We’re returning the choice to the parent,” said Rep. Rob Stafsholt, who wrote the bill, in a statement. As part of his argument, he told the story of how his daughter had killed a bear at age 11 after he had used his judgement to hold her back from doing so at age 10. Rep. Stafsholt did claim, however, that he was able to handle a rifle when he was only eight. Under this new law, anyone would be able to decide that their child — at whatever age — was ready to go on a mentored hunt.
The bill's critics, on the other hand, claim that it will make everyone who goes out to hunt less safe. “To allow ... a toddler, a two-year-old (to carry a gun), and I’m not being hyperbolic because someone will allow it, is dangerous,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland in an interview with the Associated Press. “Other hunters in the woods are not going to choose to get hurt by a child with a rifle.”
Those against the bill have plenty of hunting accidents to point to as evidence for why it should not become law. One parent, Joe Slattery, spoke out against the bill after losing his own son at the hands of a 13 year-old with a gun. "You can get them involved at six, by taking them hunting with you, that's perfectly legal right now, you just don't have to put a gun in their hands," Slattery told ABC 2.
And it's not only hunting accidents — as of early November, 241 people had already died in an unintentional shooting carried out by a child in 2017 alone.
The NRA supports this bill, claiming in a statement that it's "important piece of legislation to promote our hunting heritage.” If the bill passes — and it's likely to, given the Republican majority in the Senate and Gov. Scott Walker's previous stance on gun control — then Wisconsin will join the 34 other states that also don't have a minimum age restriction on hunting.