Gun Violence and Young Hunters: The Irrefutable Connection

Published by PETA Staff.
6 min read

“We have to stop these tragedies from occurring.” “When will this senseless violence end?” “The government has to take action.” These words are unfortunately all too familiar to Americans as we watch heartbroken family members and friends demand change in what feels like an endless stream of reports about mass gun violence. We listen to the pleas for more accessible mental health care, gun legislation reform, threat identification and assessment programs in schools, bans on bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, an end to mass shooter notoriety, and other solutions. We know that this multipronged problem requires a multipronged approach. So here’s a vital step toward ending this epidemic that we should all be able to agree on:

Stop offering courses that teach children how to use deadly weapons.

Wildlife departments and schools across the country place firearms into the hands of children and encourage them to become skilled users. These minors are considered too young and immature to make responsible, informed decisions about voting, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and in many cases, operating a car. But hunting programs for young people apparently deem them wise and competent enough to be taught how to kill.

Squirrel on a tree trunk

In many states, children of any age can be taken into the woods and instructed to kill animals—despite the fact that almost none want to do this. Children have a natural empathy for animals and don’t want to see them suffer. But hunting programs aggressively recruit young people to make up for the rapid decline in the number of hunters. Less than 4% of the U.S. population hunts, and 61% of those who do are over age 40. And these programs continue to push children into a violent, bloody pastime even as gun violence skyrockets. Research into recent U.S. mass shootings reveals a sobering connection.

A large number of U.S. mass shooters were exposed to gun violence against animals or other forms of cruelty at an early age. The following is a partial list of mass shooters who had direct ties to hunting and/or animal abuse:

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child directed member states to ensure that children aren’t exposed to violence against animals. The committee established in its General Comment No. 26 that “children must be protected from all forms of physical and psychological violence and from exposure to violence, such as domestic violence or violence inflicted on animals.” Watching terrified wildlife being gunned down and sliced apart certainly qualifies as violence.

But programs that teach kids to kill continue to operate.

Whitetail fawn in a green meadow

Hunting isn’t necessary. It causes deer populations to increase. Deer reproduce based on the availability of food and habitat, and does can even reabsorb fetuses when resources are scarce. After hunters kill tens of thousands of deer in an area, the resultant spike in available necessities results in increased breeding and more sets of twins. And wildlife management agencies commonly kill off natural predators to ensure that there are plenty of targets for hunters’ bullets and arrows. Humans don’t “conserve” wildlife by killing them—and they don’t teach kids “respect” for animals by telling them to fire away.

Parents, educators, and authorities must take reports of cruelty to animals seriously and handle every instance with the gravitas that it requires. And people must stop desensitizing impressionable children to violence and gore and teaching them how to kill. As long as young people are taught that killing others is often necessary, justifiable, and even worthy of accolades, we can’t be surprised when they pay attention.

Note: PETA supports animal rights, opposes all forms of animal exploitation, and informs the public on these issues. PETA doesn’t directly or indirectly participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office or any political party. PETA takes no position on gun ownership but does oppose all violence, whether the victims are animals or humans.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind

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