The furore occasioned by the publicity surrounding the killing of feral goats in Scotland offered arguably the perfect insight into what exactly it is about the shooting of game or as it was in this case, vermin control that so exercises the anti-shooting lobby.
To recap, last month the twittersphere exploded with indignation when images began to circulate of an American ‘celebrity’ shooter, Larisa Switlyk, posed alongside a dead goat, which she had shot on the Scottish island of Islay. Now, it needs pointing out that every major body which either owns land or is charged with the responsibility of managing it and where these goats are present, controls their numbers by selective culling, because left to their own devices the animals breed like billy-o and trash the habitat to the detriment of a whole range of native species of birds and animals. All too clearly then it was not the fact of the animal’s having been shot that exercised the keyboard warriors. So what exactly could it have been? As the shit storm descended on the lady’s head, it became clear that the fact that what she was doing was providing a positive environmental benefit was being ignored and by being ignored it then became clearer still that what this was really about was the big smile Ms. Switlyk wore in the picture. It didn’t help of course that she had posted the image on twitter accompanied by some boasting about the shot with which she had killed the animal. And just for good measure the lady is both attractive and, far worse in the minds of her detractors, American. It is difficult to think of any boxes that remained unticked in the febrile minds of those opposed to shooting, but more than any one thing what lit the blue touch paper, was that smile and with it the apparent confirmation to the angry brigade that this woman had enjoyed killing an animal.
The evidence to support this was there in the frequency with which those who sought to condemn her described her actions as “morally wrong” and “unethical”. The latter term is especially revealing for it asks of those employing it no requirement to explain what precisely those ethics might be, but given that there was no suggestion that the lady had, for example, used the wrong calibre of rifle or that the animal had suffered in any way, then by that well established process of stripping away all the possible permutations, to the point where what you are then left with (no matter how improbable) is the truth, one can conclude that what upset her critics was that she appeared to have enjoyed her day out. The minds of those outraged by Ms. Switlyk’s picture are populated by rigid orthodoxies and the one at work here, insists that whilst it might just find the shooting of wild animals and birds acceptable on environmental grounds, (subject to their being personally satisfied by the evidence in support), the act itself must only be carried out regretfully - enjoyment must play no part. Ideally those doing it should go about their business grim faced and reluctant, perhaps shedding a tear or two at the outcome. Under absolutely no circumstances should this work fall to the wealthy, especially if those concerned are blond, attractive and (boo, hiss) American.
Once one understands this it becomes clear why opponents of shooting so often claim that their argument is a moral or ethical one. It is a catch-all explanation, at once implying that the holder of these views operates to a loftier set of principles than others, whilst not requiring of them an objective justification for their position. But the truth is much more prosaic. The people who attacked Ms Switlyk don’t really like people very much. They certainly don’t like wealth or the privilege which often goes with it, something they associate (quite wrongly) with the shooting community as a whole. They anthropomorphise, because they find it easier to express feelings for an animal than a human and most tend to share the wholly erroneous view that if nature were left to itself it would sort things out. A proposition that would work in the Amazon rain forest, but one that would take millennia to achieve in a manmade landscape such as we find in this country. Knowing this one can be sure that had Ms Switlyk scowled at the camera and in the message accompanying the picture talked of her deep regret at the necessity of having to control these animals, there would have been no reaction. The animal would still have been dead, but that of course was (and is) never the point.