Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Oh Shoot

“Mr. McLaughlin, did you hear about Vice President Dick Cheney shooting that guy?” as student asked on a Monday morning, just as the first class of the day was beginning.

“Yes, I did.”

“The vice president shot someone?” said another student incredulously.

“Evidently there was a hunting accident in Texas over the weekend,” I said. “Vice President Cheney was quail hunting and accidentally hit a hunting companion with bird shot from a small-gauge shotgun. The man is alive, but in the hospital.”

“What if he dies? Will Cheney go to jail?” asked the first student. He seemed to relish the thought.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Possibly, I guess. If Cheney were found to be criminally negligent when the accident occurred, it’s a possibility. Texas law would apply in this case and I don’t know what the rules are down there.” I picked up one of the papers and saw an article below the fold on the front page. I scanned it and found information about the gun Cheney was using. “It says here that the man was shot from thirty yards away with a 28 gauge shotgun. I’ve never heard of that kind of gun. I’ve hunted partridges and woodcock around here with a 20-gauge shotgun. Most people use 12 gauge guns which are bigger. I’ve heard about even smaller shotguns called .410s, but I’ve never heard of a 28 gauge. Have any of you?”

“I’ve heard of them,” said a boy. A .410 is smaller than a 28 gauge. I use a .410 with a slug instead of buckshot to hunt deer with my father.” Other students were listening to him and I could tell from the looks on some faces that they had no idea what he was talking about.

“Buck shot is like a bunch of little BBs spraying out of the gun rather than one bullet. Instead of a bullet hole like this,” I explained while drawing a little circle on the blackboard and filling it in, “buck shot leaves a pattern like this on whatever is hit.” I drew a random collection of smaller dots next to the bullet hole. “The guy Cheney shot would have a lot of little holes on his face, his neck, and his chest.”

“There are some good jokes about it,” said another boy.

“Are any appropriate to tell here?” I asked.

“I can’t remember them exactly right now,” he said.

“I’m sure there will be more,” I said. “Cheney must be feeling bad about it. What he did was pretty stupid and the whole world knows it. Even his friends think he did a dumb thing, and his enemies are chuckling.”

For the next several days students wanted to talk about the incident. I asked them why they thought the story was getting so much attention. “Because it’s the vice president,” said a girl.

“Have any of you known someone involved in a hunting accident?” I asked. “They’re fairly common, unfortunately. Three hands went up. “Without mentioning any names, will you briefly describe what happened?”

One boy said, “A guy who was hunting with my father shot at a deer and there was another hunter behind it. He missed the deer and hit the guy in the leg.”

“Okay,” I said. “Did it get reported in the newspaper?”

“No.” he said. “I don’t think so.”

“Did the police investigate?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Did the victim suffer any permanent damage to his leg?”

“No. He’s fine now.”

The other students described hunting accidents they knew about. One victim was shot in the arm and the results of the accident were fairly similar. Neither incident had gotten much attention beyond the circle of people involved.

“Cheney’s accident is being handled quite differently, huh?” I said.

“I don’t think reporters like Dick Cheney,” said a boy.

“I think there’s a liberal bias in the media,” said a girl. “They seem to like reporting on this.” Liberal or conservative bias is something we look for often in class when studying the textbook or when digesting news reports.

“Well,” I said. “There have been several research studies about that. Most indicate that at least four out of five Washington correspondents from the major networks and the biggest newspapers vote Democrat. Fewer than ten percent vote Republican. Cheney is one Republican they love to hate. Karl Rove, the president’s political advisor, is another. Negative stories about either of them tend to get a lot of attention. Cheney has never been afraid of speaking his mind. He’s annoyed a lot of people in the media and now that he’s done something stupid he’s going to have to pay the price, I guess.”

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