Politicians in Wisconsin are hoping to pass a law that would allow toddlers to use rifles while hunting. The bill drafted by Republican assembly members proposes that children of all ages be allowed to carry and use hunting weapons if they are under adult supervision.
The current law states that children must be at least 12 years old in order to obtain a gun licence for hunting. Children aged 10 and over are allowed to use weapons, but must be supervised.
Republican lawmakers want to do away with this age limit to allow parents to decide if their children are mature enough to use a hunting rifle.
Democrats opposed the bill, which was passed by a vote of 57-32 on Thursday (November 2). It will now require a vote in the state senate in order to pass into law. Just four Republicans voted in opposition.
"It's just crazy (the minimum age) would go below 10," Rep. Gary Hebl 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."
Rep. Katrina Shankland said the new law poses an unacceptable risk to children and other hunters:
"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."
The bill's author, Rep. Rob Stafsholt, countered safety concerns by claiming that high-power rifles are used to hunt in only some instances. He also told reporters that he believed he was capable of using a .22 calibre rifle when he was just 8. During the debate Stafsholt, said his daughter shot and killed a bear when she was just 11-years-old but said adults should always exercise caution when allowing children to kill animals at a young age.
The National Rifle Association and some state-wide hunting groups have come out in support of the bill's provisions but other wildlife and animal-rights groups have opposed it.