New gun bill would eliminate minimum hunting age

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Residents of any age, even toddlers, will soon be allowed to legally hunt in Wisconsin, under a bill the Assembly passed that drops the state’s minimum hunting age.

Under current laws, a Wisconsin resident must be at least 12 years old to purchase a hunting license or hunt with a gun unless they’re participating in a mentored hunt. Children as young as 10 can hunt under that program.

The new bill would allow people of any age to participate in a mentored hunt. The measure also would do away with the requirement that a hunter and mentor have just one weapon between them.

The GOP-controlled Wisconsin Assembly passed the bill 57-32 Thursday, despite complaints from Democrats that the measure would put guns in the hands of young children.

“It’s just crazy, [the minimum age] would go below 10,” Rep. Gary Hebl (D) of Sun Prairie said. “Absolute insanity that we’re talking about giving a kid a gun at any age so they experience the heritage of hunting. The most important factor is safety.”

Representative Katrina Shankland (D) of Stevens Point warned Republicans that younger children can’t pay attention to their mentors.

“To allow … a toddler, a two-year-old (to carry a gun), and I’m not being hyperbolic because someone will allow it, is dangerous,” she said. “Other hunters in the woods are not going to choose to get hurt by a child with a rifle.”

Republicans said that deciding when a child is old enough to handle a firearm should be up to that child’s parents.

Prior to the vote, the bill’s author, Rep. Rob Stafsholt of New Richmond, told reporters that not every hunter uses high-powered rifles, and he believes he was capable of handling a .22-caliber rifle when he was eight years old.

During debate on the Assembly floor, Stafsholt said that his daughter killed a bear at age 11. He noted that he held her back from bear hunting when she was 10 because she wasn’t ready.

“We’re returning the choice to the parent,” Stafsholt said.

The National Rifle Association, the Safari Club, Whitetails of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and Wisconsin Force, a group of shooting range owners, have all registered in support of the bill. The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is the only group to register in opposition.

Three Republicans voted against the bill, while four Democrats voted for it.

The bill, known as AB 455, now goes to the state Senate.

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