The Rash Rush to Ban Internet Hunting

Published July 1, 2005

“If ever there was an issue for Congress to speak with some moral or ethical clarity, this is it. If you let this go on in society, what’s next?”
Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA)

Davis, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune, was not talking about the Terri Schiavo case. He wasn’t talking about the financial shenanigans of Enron or WorldCom. He wasn’t even talking about profanity on cable TV.

What has stoked Davis’ moral outrage is the discovery of a small Texas business that has made it possible for disabled sportsmen to hunt by computer.

Davis is not alone in his indignation. Although the Texas legislature couldn’t address the state’s escalating state budget problems, mediocre public schools, or telecom reform, it did manage this spring to ban “computer-assisted” hunting.

The new law essentially targets John Lockwood, an entrepreneur in San Antonio, and his Web site, Using, a hunter can connect a desktop PC to a video feed from a blind on Lockwood’s ranch, draw down on a deer, and fire a rifle by clicking the mouse.

Virginia is also considering legislation to ban hunting via modem. Davis would like nothing better than a federal ban.

Lockwood did everything by the book in establishing his business. To hunt via, you had to have a Texas hunting license and pay a $1,000 deposit covering the cost of the animal, as well as the cost of butchering the carcass. The rifle itself was manually loaded and supervised by an experienced handler on site. Lockwood’s intended market was disabled hunters who can no longer trek out to a blind.

Lockwood’s idea, however, ran headlong into the country’s uneasy politics of guns, blood sport, animal rights, and the “future shock” of the physical becoming virtual.

“This falls off the ethical charts,” says Kirby Brown, executive vice president of the Texas Wildlife Association, in the same Tribune article. “Hunting is totally experiential. You immerse yourself in it. The animal has a fair chance.”

Seriously? Strip away the Hemingway mystique and what’s left is the notion that shooting a defenseless animal with a metal-jacketed bullet fired from a high-powered rifle with a telescopic site is morally acceptable if you are willing to freeze or sweat in a blind all day, but ethically appalling if you’re at home in your study.

As for “immersion,” what happens when virtual reality takes everything a step further? SurroundSound headphones and a high-definition video visor can come very close to duplicating the outdoor experience.

It’s an absurd overreach for the government to declare a legal activity to be illegal when it employs technology to make the experience accessible to those who otherwise could not physically participate. Isn’t that what the Internet is all about?

Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute.