State News

Wisconsin officially eliminates minimum age for hunters

Children of any age can now hunt legally in Wisconsin.

Image By: Photo courtesy of Creative Commons - Bureau of Land Management

Until Saturday, children under the age of 10 were prohibited from hunting in Wisconsin. But now, thanks to a law signed by Gov. Scott Walker this weekend, any kid can shoot.

Walker signed the bill, passed by the state Legislature this month, one week before deer hunting season begins in the state. Under the law, Wisconsin residents must still be 12 years old to get a hunting license, but children regardless of age can carry their own weapon if accompanied by a mentor.

Mentors must have taken a hunter training course or have had military training if they are younger than 44. But critics of the controversial bill say that’s not enough to keep kids — and other hunters — safe.

State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said the law is dangerous, and cited her own children as examples.

"[My 12-year-old] is capable of operating a gun with supervision from his dad, his older brothers," Sargent said on Facebook. "I know that my seven-year-old is not."

When pressed on why the government must get involved in minimum age requirements rather than let parents make their own choices, Sargent replied: “Because other people are in the woods as well. This is about public safety.”

Republicans who favored the bill don’t see it that way. Thirty-four other states don’t have minimum hunting ages, and some lawmakers said the new law will help parents engage their children with the outdoors.

"This bill will allow responsible hunters to get kids off the couch and off the electronics and into the woods," Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said. "There's nothing more exciting than seeing the look on someone's face when they harvest their first animal."

Furthermore, legislators who voted for the bill said the previous law, which allowed younger children to participate in mentored hunts but not to have a weapon to themselves, actually posed a safety risk.

"Imagine yourself out in the woods," Rep. James Edming, R-Glen Flora, said. "You're hunting a bear. You have one gun that the grandson has. The grandson shoots the bear. Doesn't kill it. And the bear comes charging. Now, you've got a real problem because you can't defend yourself or the grandson."

The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, a leading group in the state advocating against gun violence, said they don’t buy that argument.

“Toddlers and young children will now literally be able to hunt with a know, once they get out of their car seats,” the group wrote on Facebook. “Shame on every one of the WI senators who just voted ‘Yes’ to eliminating the age requirement for hunting with firearms.”

On UW-Madison’s campus, anti-gun advocates also condemned the new law. Katherine Kerwin, chapter leader of Cocks Not Glocks and chair of Associated Students of Madison’s Legislative Affairs Committee, said she is “extremely concerned” by Walker’s decision to sign the bill.

“Just last year 77 children were killed in accidental shootings,” Kerwin said. “This bill will undoubtedly put children at risk of becoming victim to accidental detonations, as they, without any training or fully developed motor skills, will have the ability to carry a lethal firearm at any age."

The National Rifle Association, along with some hunters’ groups, registered support for the bill, while WAVE, along with child safety advocacy groups, was against it. The legislation passed 57-32, with four Democrats joining most Republicans in voting yes, and three Republicans voting no.

UPDATE Nov. 13, 11:24 p.m.: This post was updated to include a student comment.

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