06/17/2009 08:16 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Get Yourself a Gun

Whenever the madness of massive gun ownership is challenged you can bet one of the first responses will be "How dare you libruls try to stop us enjoying the healthy and natural sport of hunting with our children", or words to that effect. But this is one of those many issues on which I find it hard to empathize with my conservative fellow human beings. I can't imagine ever training a gun on an animal peacefully going about its business, getting on with its life, and then squeezing the trigger and blowing its brains out or bursting its heart, blood spattered over the great outdoors.

This is at its most obscene in the practice of "Internet hunting" where you can do the same thing from the comfort of your home at the click of a mouse button. But it has no less horror for coming at the end of a long healthy hike through the woods with your oldest son clutching his first hunting rifle and chatting happily about the meaning of life.

How does it enter the soul, this comfortable, but triumphant, death-dealing? How do hunters get away with the euphemism that slaughter of other living beings is not only "sport", but an essential part of being human, and not to be restricted in any way?

At least some of the blame goes to the religious ideology that trumpets human dominion over all living things. If we have some kind of supreme authority over the world, then, rather like a prison guard and his inmates, we can do anything we like to that world. Animals, in this view, live only so long as we choose to allow them to do so. They have no right to life of their own, all of their rights are given by us and can be instantly revoked at a whim.

But there is even more to it I think. Even if you believe that your imaginary friend made you a lord of the universe, it still remains that pressing that trigger, shooting that crossbow, ending that life, requires a complete absence of empathy with another living being. Requires that you not even consider the pain and then oblivion of the animal itself, or the pain and grief of the family and other group members left behind.

And such lack of empathy can only come, surely, if you recognize no kinship between yourself and that wolf, that moose, that seal, that duck, that gorilla, that kangaroo. Recognize no shared emotions, feelings, ideas, sensations; no commonality of life. And for that to be true you must, surely, see yourself as having been created separately. For even the most cursory knowledge of evolution would make you unable to pull that trigger on creatures who, being your relatives, have so much in common with you.

Is the "intelligent design" movement just an alibi for killing?

Plenty of empathy, though not for hunters, at The Watermelon Blog.