One of the things I love about Aotearoa is that our forests are pretty safe. They do eat people ocassionally but it's rare. The taniwha in the rivers do too, now and then, but people usually know where the danger spots are. What we don't have are a dozen varieties of venomous snakes, scorpions, lethal spiders or large people-eating carnivores. I guess an angry pig could do some damage if it caught you unawares, but it's not something trampers are likely to worry about.
All of which, I guess, makes the tragic death of Rosemary Ives all the more aggravating. The idea that a person could be accidently shot while brushing her teeth before heading off to bed at a DoC campsight makes me angry as hell. My immediate response was to “throw the book at the bugger responsible” for being negligent with a lethal weapon, for shooting near a public campsight, for 'spotlighting' from the road and for just being a dick. The fact that 2 other similar incidents were reported over the same weekend just added to my disgust.
A Hamilton man, Andrew Mears, has now been charged with careless use of a firearm causing death and I welcome that. His lawyer says that his family wishes to meet with Ms Ives' family to express their sympathy but have been advised that it is too soon. I have no doubt that Mr Mears and his family are completely shattered by this event and I hope that they do get an opportunity to express their sorrow to the Ives' face to face because it may help soothe that family's terrible, irreparable loss.
But I am beginning to wonder what good 'throwing the book' at anyone would actually do. If Mr Mears is convicted, what use would there be in putting him in prison? It won't affect his likelihood of reoffending. To be honest I'd be surprised if he could even bring himself to pick a gun up again. Neither will it have any deterrent effect. Anyone stupid enough to hunt in the dark near a campsight by spotlighting from a vehicle is clearly not thinking about possible consequences – to themselves or to others. If the possibility of killing someone isn't enough to dissuade them, the length of the sentence if they do is unlikely to have an impact.
There are three issues that a real justice system would need to address, in my opinion. The first is how the family and friends of Ms Ives can find some peace in the midst of their grief. A restorative justice approach seems to me to be much more likely to deliver that than the standard cold court system and I hope they are given the chance to consider it and support if they wish to use it.
The second is to hold the culpable person responsible. Again, a restorative justice conference where the killer has to face Ms Ives' family and look them in the eyes would be a lot harder, and a more powerful way of taking responsibility, than time in prison.
The third issue is how do we prevent, or at least lessen, this kind of moronic behaviour in the future? Hunting accidents are not THAT uncommon, although usually it involves hunters shooting other hunters, often their friends. If people faithfully followed the Arms Code that they are tested on when they apply for a gun license this shouldn't happen, but I suspect that some people treat it like a school test – learn it enough to regurgitate on the day and then forget about it.
The Deeerstalkers Association is urging all hunters to learn from the bad practises that led to Ms Ives' death, but I wonder whether a more systematic approach is called for. The question is, how do we make people understand when they get a gun license that carelessness really can lead to them killing someone. How do we get them to really think about that? Our current licensing procedure doesn't even try. Perhaps a compulsory viewing of the confessions of convicted hunter-killers would help bring the lesson home.
(from my Waikato Times column 29/10/10)