A bill in the state Legislature would allow kids younger than 10 to hunt.

In 2010, Wisconsin started letting children ages 10 and 11 hunt with mentors, as long as they were within “arm’s reach” and only had one gun between child and adult. Kids that age need not pass a safety class because, well, some are too young to read course material.

Such hunts are growing in popularity, but they’re still bad ideas. This new proposal is even worse.

Advocates believe engaging youngsters at earlier ages will foster the next generation of hunters and ensure that the state’s hunting tradition stays strong. Yet even at age 10, many kids lack the physical and mental maturity to safely handle guns.

What age is too young? Is it 8, or 6 or even younger?

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, suggests his proposal would remove “burdensome regulation.” He points to data showing that kids younger than 10 can hunt with mentors in 34 of 41 states that offer such programs.

That doesn’t make it smart.

Also, Wisconsin is one of just four states that require one gun between mentor and child. Kleefisch’s bill would erase that stipulation. That makes it even worse.

“Our utmost goal is to look at safety first,” he says.

Nonsense. This is an accident waiting to happen.

If safety were the top priority, Kleefisch wouldn’t have introduced the bill. How many kids younger than 10 do you know who lack the strength to hold up and safely point a deer rifle or shotgun and can comprehend that once the trigger is pulled, that bullet might travel miles beyond its target? Can they grasp the concept and finality of killing a wild creature?

It’s no surprise that the National Rifle Association and several other gun-rights groups support the legislation. This bill is all about money — cash going to license sales and padding Department of Natural Resources coffers; to businesses catering to hunters; and to Republican campaign coffers from special interests who fear any erosion of gun rights.

It’s no surprise that this legislation comes from the husband of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

Retired Rock County sheriff’s Lt. Jim Dilley has taught hunter safety for 20 years. Based on his experience in law enforcement and as a parent, hunter and instructor, he doesn’t think letting younger kids hunt makes sense.

Joseph Lacenski, president of the Wisconsin Hunter Education Instruction Association, hit the bull’s-eye in remarks he submitted to an Assembly committee:

“Can that 1-day-old to 9-year-old differentiate between shoot (or) don’t shoot? Can they differentiate between what is killing versus hunting? Can they rationalize the difference between video games they have been playing and the consequences of the real world?”

Too often, the answers are “no.”

Advocates of the bill argue it should be the parents’ responsibility to decide when a child is ready. Such hunts might help kids and parents bond, build camaraderie and teach safety lessons on a deeper level than children might get through classes.

But not all parents are appropriately wired. Dilley recalls parents who enrolled a 10-year-old in a safety class last year. He refunded their money when he realized the kid lacked strength to hold up the weapon.

Likewise, some overzealous parents will push unwilling children to hunt. This might backfire and make more kids turn away from hunting.

This proposal deserves the bull’s-eye of rejection.

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