As I scrolled through my various social media sites the other day I encountered this picture, and it made me pause. It is important to note that my father hunts, and taught me how to be an effective hunter since I was probably about the same age as the boys in this picture. I was taught that we hunt in order to maintain the balance in nature, and that we use what we kill. We mostly hunt whitetail deer, but every now and then we would hunt turkey, pheasant, chukar, and fox. As the picture notes, there is a stack of coyote bodies in front of the two boys, and it was originally posted by a group called “United Against Trophy Hunting.”
Now there are a few different messages associated with one picture, but I guess the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is true. The original picture of the two boys posing with rifles after a day of hunting was more than likely posted by their parents, because they were proud to have such good hunters for sons. The person who added the caption assumes that the parents justified the taking of the coyotes’ lives, because they are a danger to people. The notion that coyotes attack children is very real, because coyotes have been known to stalk and attack children in suburban California. Realistically, children are a predictable target for a coyote, because they weigh about the same yet children have no feasible way to defend themselves. One can think about an attack in terms of Routine Activity Theory in Criminal Justice; there is a likely offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian.
Next, the caption takes a shot (no pun intended) at the amount of children “killed or injured by firearms” in the United States in 2010. 15,576 children is a staggering number, especially when in comparison to the amount of fatal coyote attacks, but the author is comparing apples to oranges. The argument against firearms includes both the injured and killed children from firearms, whereas the argument against killing coyotes only takes into account coyotes’ kills. The picture lacks a source for the statistic and the phrasing is poor, so let’s clear up the information.
The first statistic does not differentiate between accidents versus purposeful incidents, or a distinction of whether the injury or death was committed using a handgun or long gun. The Center for Disease Control has been working with 32 states to create the National Violent Death Reporting System, and this system logs the ages of victims, the cause of death, and so on. In 2010, 347 homicides and 40 unintentional deaths for children ages 0-19 out of a population of 22,116,253. Out of those numbers, there were 298 15-19 year old homicide victims, and 154 of those were committed using handguns. The deaths committed with a handgun contrast starkly against the mere 44 total deaths of children that occurred in 2010 where the assailant used a shotgun or rifle.
Whether the original argument of protecting children is true or just a straw man argument is unimportant; what is important is that the author lost his case by using cherry picked statistics. If the original number of 15,576 injured or killed children from firearms is correct, then we can subtract the 397 total deaths from firearms to get 15,179. If the rates of which type of weapon used holds true on a larger scale, then 7,646 children were injured from handguns as compared to the 1,682 injuries sustained from shotguns or rifles. Another ambiguity that arises is what defines an injury? Does an injury only include being shot, or can it also include an ear injury from not wearing proper hearing protection?
Many animal rights activists would be horrified looking at this picture, and probably call them monsters for “trophy hunting.” However there could be another side to this story. Imagine the boys’ family own a ranch as their business where they raise, care for, and eventually sell their livestock for profit. If coyotes come into their ranch and kill the sheep, cows, or other animals, then the family stands to lose a lot of money. Do they not have the right to protect their livelihood by removing the threat? In California, property owners have the right to take the life of bears or wild pigs that are killing or injuring their livestock under Section 4181 of the Fish and Game Code. It is necessary to obtain a Depredation Permit for other animals causing damage to property, but then the landowner is allowed to take elk, beaver, and gray squirrels in addition to the bears and wild pigs. In states like Arkansas and South Carolina it is possible to obtain a coyote depredation permit, so there is a possibility that the taking of the coyotes was completely warranted.
In summary, there is a real threat of children being in danger from coyote populations depending on the area. The statistics provided in the picture are misleading, and the actual statistics would lead one to be opposed to handguns rather than long guns and hunting. The taking of predators is allowed and necessary in order to protect one’s property. Hunting is a safe and fun way to enjoy the outdoors, and pictures like these can be deceptive to the point of turning the general population against hunters who are necessary to maintain the balance of nature. Education about hunting and hunters is necessary in order to remove the prejudice against hunters as much as it is in other populations that people don’t know enough about.