Hunting by remote control draws fire from all quarters
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Concerned that state legislation won't be restrictive enough, his group wants a federal ban on online hunting. "Nobody ever said the wilderness had to be ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant," says Mr. Markarian. "That is no justification for this practice, and it doesn't give [disabled] people a true hunting experience anyway."Skip to next paragraph
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Even groups that help the disabled hunt are upset. The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), for instance, has a program designed for disabled hunters, but the idea is to get them into the wilderness or participate in shooting events. "We believe that hunting should be outdoors and that sitting in front of a computer three states away doesn't qualify as hunting," says spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs.
Yet the the NRA is also closely watching the anti-online-hunting bills, from Hawaii to Wisconsin to Maine, to make sure they don't affect disabled hunters' special needs in the field - the use of an electronic wheelchair, for instance.
Earlier this month, Virginia became the first state to ban Internet hunting. In Texas, the state Parks & Wildlife Department has proposed a regulatory change that would ban it for animals native to Texas. So far, virtually all the public comments have been in favor of banning the activity. The proposal could take effect in May.
The state, however, doesn't have control over non-native species and that's what Lockwood's customers will be shooting at: Barbary sheep, blackbuck antelope, and wild boar, for instance. "In the grand scheme of things, with all the problems facing wildlife, this isn't really a big one," says Tom Harvey of Texas Parks & Wildlife. "It's more of an ethical issue than a biological or ecological issue."
The biggest opponents may be hunters themselves. "It's not hunting. It's killing," says Jeremy Johnston, a police officer at the University of Houston. "Someone gets on a computer and pushes a button and something dies for no reason. That's not why I was taught to hunt."
For Mr. Johnston, hunting is about relaxing outdoors, bonding with friends, and providing for his family. He says there are so many groups that now help the disabled hunt, there's no reason for such a novelty.
A bill to outlaw Internet hunting for any species will be heard in the Texas House of Representatives Tuesday, and Lockwood recently met with its author, Rep. Todd Smith (R). Lockwood believes those who are most outraged simply don't understand how the system works, who benefits, and how many safety procedures are in place. "I am in full agreement that there needs to be legislation and regulation controlling it," he says. "But people are under the impression that this is a slaughtering machine and, jiminy crickets, that's not what it is."
Hagberg, his first customer, also understands the concerns. "I totally understand why people are upset. But I think that if they knew someone like me, it would change their minds," he says. "I have wanted to go hunting for 18 years, but I haven't been able to. This opened a whole new world for me."