November 28, 2023

With Freedom Comes Respect, Responsibility And Reason

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The American Heritage Dictionary defines freedom this way: 1. The condition of being free of restraints. 2. Liberty of the person from slavery, oppression or incarceration. 3. a. A political independence. b. Possession of civil rights; immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority. 4. Exemption from unpleasant or onerous conditions. 5. The capacity to exercise choice, among others. What isn’t spelled out in the American Heritage Dictionary is that all of the great things that freedom offers me, it too offers my neighbor.

All too often we are caught up in self, thinking about MY freedoms and MY rights, that we forget that all Americans share freedom and have rights. For freedom to work, it has to be thought of as being something shared by all. Once we have that concept down, we can then better understand that to be truly free, we have to be responsible for ourselves, respect the freedoms of others and use good reasoning to determine what limitations, if any, come with freedom.

It is no secret that we as individuals have are own things in life we enjoy. Many times we refer to these things as our freedoms. Some people like to horseback ride, others like to read a book. I know people who liked to jump out of planes and others who like to ride fast in race cars. These are all things we can enjoy and can do because we are free.

But what if I think it is too dangerous for perfectly healthy people to jump out of an airplane? Can I demand that it be stopped? What if my neighbor likes building race car engines in his garage and I think what he does is too noisy. Can I demand that he stop?

My questions bring up the other sides of freedom – the respect, responsibility and reason sides. Let’s take a look at the freedom side of recreation and outdoor activities or sports and things people like to do for their fun.

Respect comes in the form of recognizing that the other person is an individual who may have different ideas than you about what is fun, relaxing and enjoyable. Because I may not think ATV riding is anything I would want to do, certainly doesn’t mean that those who do should be stopped. I have to respect that other people find the activity very enjoyable.

Responsibility is when the ATV rider assumes the consequences for all his actions. In other words, he should ride on designated trails, get landowner permission, purchase any required licenses and permits, ride safely so as not to endanger others, etc. On the other side of that, should I decide to go on a hike through the woods, it is my responsibility to know what, if any, other users are on the same trail. If ATV riders use this trail, I have to be prepared to share the trail and assume a certain amount of risk.

If I believe that ATV riding is wrong, dangerous and destructive and I want to force a law banning all forms of ATV riding, this would be considered by most people to be unreasonable. Rational adults use sound reasoning skills to improve things like ATV riding to make it safer and less environmentally destructive.

Eleven days ago an 18-year old girl was accidentally shot with a muzzleloader in South Paris, Maine. I have covered this story quite a bit and it has created quite a bit of debate as it should, mainly because the death of any person becomes a very trying and emotional time.

There has already been talk of banning hunting and putting more restrictions on hunters before being allowed to obtain a hunting license. Part of our responsibility as free individuals is to take a look at these issues and determine if anything could be reasonably done to make hunting safer. After all, everyone wants to be safe.

If we were to apply the same level of thinking that I laid out above, we can approach this problem in a proper way. First we deal with the respect issue. You may not like hunting but millions of people across America do and it has been a part of our heritage for generations. Non-hunters need to respect that. On the same token, hunters need to respect the fact that more people choose not to hunt and some are opposed to it. That is their choice as free Americans.

Responsibility takes on many forms with this issue. Let’s first take the obvious. A hunter, while in the woods and carrying a weapon, is the only one ultimately responsible for that weapon. It is that same hunter’s duty to make sure where he or she is hunting at all times and they should obtain permission to hunt that land, although not always required in all states. I think it would safe to say that the hunter is assuming the bulk of the responsibility while in the woods.

But, there are more responsibilities that need to be addressed. There is the responsibility of the landowner. If the landowner chooses to make their land available to hunt on, they have assumed a certain amount of risk and responsibility. During the hunting season, that landowner must assume that at anytime a hunter may be in his woods. It is up to that person to assume all reasonable methods of being safe. If they choose not to assume this, they should not allow hunting on their land.

There’s also the responsibility of the non-hunter. Perhaps it is a walker or a hiker, a bike rider or an ATV rider. Knowing that it is hunting season, brings an assumed amount of risk to these people should they decided to exercise their freedoms to go outside. It would be reasonable for that person to take necessary precautions as well.

Let’s not forget the responsibility of the agency that governs hunting. Rules and regulations are created through a legislative process. The laws are created to keep discipline and provide for a safe environment for all. They have a responsibility too but not all of it is theirs. Going hand in hand with the state agency, is the towns themselves. Each town has to be responsible for all these activities within their boundaries to some degree.

Hunting gets more scrutiny when there are accidents because they involve guns. Hunting is a safe sport. There are far fewer injuries and deaths than in many other things that free Americans choose to do but because hunting involves a gun, emotions run deeper. People opposed to hunting then begin demanding unreasonable restrictions or outright bans on the activity.

When we lose sight of reason, respect and responsibility get lost in discussions. People love to recreate in America. It’s what keeps many of us sane. Many of the things we choose to do are dangerous. Everything we do involves a certain amount of risk. Does that mean we should ban it because it is risky? No, but it does mean we should look to see if it can be made safer. Safer usually means more enjoyment but we must do what is reasonable.

Demanding a halt to hunting because of a rare fatality is emotionally driven and is unreasonable. Asking that the authorities take another look at the laws concerning hunting in proximity to homes, is reasonable.

A very good friend of mine, who happens to be the chief photographer for U.S. Hunting Today, Milt Inman, contacted me about the accidental shooting of Megan Ripley. He brought up what I thought was an excellent point that relates to responsibility and one that he says never gets discussed. He brought up the point that it would be an excellent idea if the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in conjunction with all the media outlets of television, radio, newspapers and Internet, cooperated in a public service campaign during the big game hunting seasons, ie. deer and bear, to educate the non-hunting public as to the dates of the seasons and things they can do to be safe. His point was that non-hunters don’t pick up a hunting law book to see what the dates of the hunting seasons are. It should be our responsibility to do a better job of getting the word out to the public. I couldn’t agree more.

I have thought some of the creation of a secondary buffer around inhabited dwellings. Currently, most states have some sort of distance set within which it is unlawful to discharge a firearm near a dwelling. Perhaps if a secondary buffer outside that of perhaps up to 500 feet or more, where a hunter not only would need the permission of the landowner to be there but must also notify the landowner when they were going to be there. This might be a reasonable suggestion.

The bottom line in providing for the well being of the public is the sharing of responsibility, respect for the freedoms of other Americans in what they choose to do and making these things safe and enjoyable with the setting of reasonable guidelines.

Tom Remington