In the West, fishing is more regulated than buying a gun

We stop large-caliper hooks but do nothing about large-caliber weapons.

 

Marty Jones is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Denver, Colorado.


As the West’s elected officials wrestle with how to protect us from gun violence in the aftermath of the Las Vegas nightmare, two things come to mind. First, these leaders are not actually wrestling with the issue of how to protect us from gun violence. If they were, the solution would be as clear as a mountain stream: Treat people more like fish.

Because here in the West, fish get far more protection than people.

If you’re an adult, you need a license to fish. Here in Colorado and other states, that license limits you to two fishing rods at a time. Keeping fish is often forbidden, and barbless hooks are often required to boost the odds that your catch-and-release gem lives to see another day.

Live bait is frequently illegal, and hook size and the fishing season itself are often limited. There are restrictions on the size of kept fish and “bag limits” on how many a caster can keep. All of these rules are in place for one true-West reason: “Fish deserve a fighting chance.”     

The safeguards don’t stop there. Heard of the zebra mussel? Our states spend a fortune to squash the threat a tiny invasive mollusk presents to the safety of our finned friends. In California, you can’t possess a gaffe, a spear or even a long-handled net within 100 yards of a body of water.  

To prove they’re serious about enforcing piscine protections, hard-working government employees walk the shore to make sure you and I are giving brookies and bluegills their fair shot. Good things, these measures. They’re very reasonable and welcomed by sportsmen and women across the West. Even our political leaders praise these common-sense policies that “protect a valuable resource” and wisely maintain a treasured part of life.

Better still, any U.S. senators who give a crap about crappies are unlikely to face a political backlash or high-dollar effort to drive them from office. No politicians have lost their seats for being pro-Power Bait or anti-nightcrawler. We don’t rant on Twitter about jackboots and slippery slopes caused by fishing licenses. No well-funded politically charged campaign declares “Spinning Rods Don’t Kill Fish. People Do.”

Fishermen sit at the edge of the Salton Sea in California.

More astounding: Westerners don’t fear these restrictions, even when their right to bear fishing poles isn’t secured for eternity in the Constitution. But when it comes to the right to bear arms, the reasonable limitations of fishing are swept downstream with sanity. Uncle Sam doesn't require a license to buy a deadly weapon. At some gun stores, he’s fine with you buying a 500-rounds-a-minute semi-automatic weapon.

In the West, you can possess a militia-sized arsenal well within 100 yards of a body of people, along with the deadliest ammunition in any size and amount. Many politicians refuse to limit this dangerous status quo “in any fashion” while holding anglers to just two rods and artificial bait. 

Meanwhile, it’s open season on humans, and there’s no effort to reduce the bag limit or places where our loved ones get taken out. We stop large-caliper hooks but do nothing about large-caliber weapons. Schools of fish get hearty government backup. Schools of children and teachers do not.

Come on, folks. Let’s act rationally and fix this. Please, no more talk of prying guns out of people’s “cold, dead hands” — there were 58 pairs of those hands in Las Vegas. They belonged to brave cops, EMTs, security guards and everyday heroes who risked their lives to help bleeding strangers. They belonged to fathers, mothers, siblings, sons, daughters and friends who paid the worst price for simply going out to have a good time.

Those people and their families — and the 500-plus others who took bullets and the thousands who escaped them but live with terrible memories of the trauma they experienced — deserved way more protection than we provided. In a real game of war, on people, the odds were stacked against them.

Isn’t a human life as valuable as a trout’s?

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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