So it’s halfway through #wearorange day and a quick perusal of the wearorange twitter site finds Hillary, Gloria Steinem, Tommy Chong, Spike Lee, Kim and more than 17,000 ‘likers’ getting behind President Obama to raise awareness about the violence caused by guns. You can get a quick history of this movement on the #wearorange website, and while the color was chosen because it’s bright and draws attention, as a gun guy I wanted to think some more about how and why more than 40 states mandate the wearing of orange clothing when hunters go out in the field.
Laws requiring hunter or what is often referred to as ‘blaze’ orange clothing to be worn are of fairly recent vintage, although the practice of putting on an orange vest or orange jacket before going into the fields or woods has been around for a long time. Practically speaking, how much difference has it made in terms of safety since orange clothing was legally put into effect? The best estimates are that the accident rate has dropped from 4 or 5 per 100,000 hunters to somewhere around .08. In Texas, for example, there were 116 hunting accidents and 15 hunting-related deaths between 2010 and 2015; back in the 1980’s that was the average number for each year! In Maine the yearly average of hunting accidents was around 37 per year in the 1970’s, this decade it is running 5 incidents per year.
Part of the reason for the decline in hunting accidents is also the fact that less people are hunting every year, a decline that started in the 1960’s as the country’s population became more concentrated in cities and suburbs and rural areas were left behind. In 1970 Americans purchased 40 million hunting licenses, and even with a slight uptick the last several years, the annual number of licenses now sold is around 15 million or less. So it’s not the wearing of orange clothing that’s making hunters safer per se; it’s the fact that blaze orange is worn by less hunters which means, by definition, fewer accidents will take place.
But there’s another reason cited by experts as to why hunting has become safe, which happens to be the spread of hunter safety courses that are required before a first hunting license can be purchased and used for game or fowl. Every single state requires some kind of hunter safety education, and by the way, in order to get a driver’s license you have to pass a brief driving test but you don’t have to present proof that you have taken a driver education course at all. Many states offer online hunter safety courses, others accept proof of a safety course taken in another state. But the bottom line is that if you want to go hunting anywhere in the United States besides your own back yard, you can’t do it unless you first have been educated on the laws and practices of hunter safety which means, by the way, safety laws and practices involving guns.
What’s most interesting about this universal safety education requirement, a requirement incidentally, that is mandated by government in every state, is that the NRA doesn’t seem to have a problem with these educational requirements at all. Now you would think that the selfsame gun organization that blocks every attempt to mandate required safety courses for gun ownership would be consistent and try to undo safety courses that are imposed on anyone who wants to go out into the fields or woods with a gun. After all, the whole point of hunter safety instruction, the whole point of wearing orange, is the recognition that guns are extremely dangerous and nobody should be allowed to use them for hunting until they have been properly trained.
So would someone please explain to me how come it’s not dangerous to put a loaded pistol in your pocket and walk down the street?