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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Trigger Happy VPs

Alexander Hamilton was the first secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789-1795), in the cabinet of George Washington. Politically, he was a Federalist. His portrait appears on the $10 bill.

Aaron Burr was a U.S. senator from New York (1791-1797) and vice president of the United States (1801-1805) under Thomas Jefferson. Politically, he was a Republican. His portrait appears mostly in museums.

In 1789, Burr defeated Phillip Schuyler, Hamilton's father-in-law, for the Senate seat from New York. Thus began the feud between Hamilton and Burr, which culminated five years later when Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. It was said at the time that Burr had no principles and Hamilton had too many.

On July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr and Hamilton stepped off 10 paces, turned and fired their .56-caliber dueling pistols. Hamilton fell to the ground and died the next day. Burr was unscathed.

The next time a vice president of the United States shot another human being while in office occurred on Feb. 11, 2006, when Dick Cheney went hunting with some of his wealthy Republican pals.

Cheney and his entourage were bird hunting on a private ranch in south Texas when the vice president mistook a fellow hunter, Harry Whittington, for a quail and shot him. Cheney was using a .28-gauge shotgun and the pellets struck Whittington, about 30 yards away, in the face, neck and upper chest.

A three-quarter ounce load of 7 1/2 shot would normally contain more than 250 pellets, with each pellet about the size of the small letter "o" in newspaper print.

Whittington, 78, was quickly attended to by a team of medical specialists who always travel with the vice president and was later transported to a hospital in Corpus Christi where he was treated for several days, then released. He still has about six pellets of birdshot in his system, including one embedded in his heart muscle.

Cheney is an avid bird hunter. He frequently hunts for pheasant in South Dakota and ducks in Arkansas. To mistake a Texas lawyer wearing an orange vest for a quail seems out of character for the vice president. If anything, Whittington looks more like a whooping crane than a quail, and shooting whooping cranes is illegal.

According to the eye-witness account of Katherine Armstrong (owner of the 50,000-acre ranch), Cheney was swinging to his right and looking into the sun. Nevertheless, he made a snap decision and pulled the trigger. In hunting, this is called carelessness. In politics, it's known as faulty intelligence.

To further complicate matters, Cheney and Whittington were hunting illegally. While both of them had the proper license to be hunting in Texas, neither of them had the upland game bird stamp required for quail hunting.

In 1804, dueling was illegal in New Jersey, but Hamilton and Burr did it anyway. In America, the law applies equally to everyone. But sometimes those who make the law are more equal than those who must obey the law.

On Feb. 13 the vice president's press office announced that Cheney sent a $7 check to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to cover the cost of the license. All's well that ends well.

With over 1 million hunters in Texas last year, there were 29 "reported" hunting accidents (four were fatal) -- 19 of them (65 percent) involved shotguns. The overall accident rate was 2.7 per 100,000 licenses sold.

Quail, and other small birds such as dove, are low-flying, fast-moving, relatively small targets. When you hunt in groups for small birds in open areas, using dogs to flush the game, hunters usually form a line and keep abreast with the hunters on each side to avoid accidents. Wearing bright colors also reduces accidents.

Hunting is serious business. When I was a teenager, I knew a guy who was killed in a hunting accident and I knew the guy who shot him. One guy died too young and the other guy will be haunted forever.

Some people consider hunting to be a proper sport, while others consider it to be an act of ignorance and cruelty. Every unfortunate incidence involving firearms makes all hunters look bad. Do it right or don't do it at all.

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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at bret@centurytel.net.