State Lawmakers Bag Online Hunting
By Mark Matthews, Staff Writer
It is now illegal to blast Bambi over the Internet in 11 states.
Since March, lawmakers have rushed to outlaw online hunting, a pseudo-sport that sprung up mere months ago on a single Texas website, live-shot.com, which attracted only one customer.
This political recoil has both observers and the site's owner wondering: "Why?"
John Lockwood, who founded live-shot.com, said he still can't understand the reason state lawmakers banned online hunting. He said his site was intended for disabled hunters who can't stalk wildlife any other way but through his system, which rigs a rifle and camera to an Internet connection at his Texas ranch.
Even then, Lockwood said he had only one paying customer who went on six hunts, starting in April. He said on the day before the Texas ban was signed in June, his sole customer, who is disabled, bagged a ram -- his first and only kill.
"It's really funny," Lockwood said of Texas lawmakers, who outlawed online hunting in reaction to his website. "They were able to pass this law in a relatively short amount of time, but they weren't able to get school finance done."
Lockwood has since replaced online hunting with target shooting, using quarry that includes Osama bin Laden photographs. But that hasn't stopped states from banning Internet hunting of animals.
After Virginia first adopted the measure in March, there has been a steady stream of states prohibiting online hunting: Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and most recently New York and Michigan, whose governors signed bills this month.
California soon may stop online hunting legislatively, even after game officials banned both hunting and fishing over the Internet. The bill is before California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
Eric Goldman, who teaches cyber-law at Marquette University's law school, said online hunting was outlawed so quickly because it somehow infuriated, well, everyone. Among the groups in opposition were animal lovers such as the Humane Society and animal shooters such as the National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses.
Plus, Goldman said many of these bills were propelled by legislators who had a personal stake in stopping online hunting and who could draw attention to the issue -- such as one Tennessee lawmaker who threatened to dispatch a goat online to highlight the ills of computer-assisted hunting.
"You have a legislator who is morally outraged. You have the weird combination of hunting and anti-hunting groups. And no one is saying this (legislation) is silly, this is stupid," Goldman said. "Why wouldn't it pass?"
In Wisconsin, the outraged legislator was Scott Gunderson, a longtime hunter.
"I had seen it on one of the major news stations," said Gunderson, a Republican. "When I first saw it, I was like I just don't believe it was the right thing to do. People shouldn't use their credit card to buy a hunt and shoot an animal over the computer." "To me, hunting is being out in nature and becoming one with the nature," he said.
And so far, every legislature's vote has been a landslide.
In Virginia, the roll call was unanimous. Same goes for Texas, where lawmakers decided to outlaw Internet hunting -- with a loophole. The law forbids the Internet hunting of game "if the animal being hunted is located in this state."
In North Carolina, one lone soul cast a dissenting vote against the measure, which passed the House 119-0 and the Senate 47-1.
The holdout? Sen. Andrew C. Brock, a Republican from Mocksville, a small town in the center of the Tar Heel State. A hunter himself, he said his nay vote was influenced by watching a television show about a disabled man who still hunted outdoors.
"When the vote came up, I just thought about that guy," Brock said. Banning Internet hunting would penalize other disabled hunters who don't have the resources or ability to make it outdoors, Brock said.
Apparently, legislators from the state that introduced the music of Phish and ice cream from Ben & Jerry's were thinking the same. While Vermont also banned the practice of Internet hunting, it made a provision for physically impaired hunters to shoot animals via other "remote-control" technologies, just not the Internet. These hunters are required to be on-site to shoot.
David Folz, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said there is an easy explanation to Vermont's law and others: "Painless, popular and cost-free. Legislators are looking to fix a particular problem that does not involve any spending of state funds."