Internet Hunting Editorial

A Web Site for Hunting Poses Questions About Killing

By Eric Goldman

A few months ago, a website called Live-shot.com announced a new service called “Internet hunting,” where Internet users can operate a 30.06 rifle to hunt animals on Live-shot.com’s private game farm. While the customer operates the gun remotely, during the hunt the rifle is tended by a real person who can manually override the gun’s operation.

The public outcry and legislative response to Live-shot.com and Internet hunting has been swift and vehement.  In a matter of weeks, anti-Internet hunting legislation was introduced in Congress and over a dozen states (including California), and several states have already passed laws banning the practice.

Clearly, for some citizens and legislators, Internet hunting was a higher priority than other pressing social and fiscal issues.  But what exactly is the problem with Internet hunting?

Many hunters’ groups, legislators and commentators have criticized the ethics of Internet hunting.  But how is it less ethical than traditional hunting?  The process—and outcome—is essentially the same. Hunters use high-velocity lethal projectiles from a remote position (a hunting platform or a chair at a desktop) to kill animals.  In either case, their targets don’t have a fighting chance.  (As the old joke goes, deer hunting will be a sport only when they give the deer guns.)

In response, some feel that Internet hunting turns animal hunting into a mere video game, desensitizing people to killing animals.  This is an interesting argument for two reasons.

First, American society is already fairly desensitized to animal slaughter.  I think very few people who eat a fast-food burger or pick up a steak at the grocery consider, at the point of purchase or consumption, how the meat was manufactured.  At one level, this indifference is a rational coping strategy.  Meat manufacturing plants are optimized for high-volume slaughter, resulting in brutal processes simply too horrific for most of us to contemplate.  However, while we may feel better by knowing less, we also become desensitized to those horrors.

Second, it is unclear which hunters are more desensitized.  When a traditional hunter kills an animal, the hunter can sense the animal’s emotion, its fear of being hunted and any suffering from its wounds. In contrast, an Internet hunter likely senses none of this.  This prompts me to wonder who we should be more concerned about: the Internet hunter who pulls the trigger without regard to the animal’s condition, or the traditional hunter who does sense the animal’s fears and emotions – but pulls the trigger anyway?

If Internet hunting is hard to distinguish from traditional hunting, why has it produced such outrage?  I understand why animal rights activists oppose Internet hunting (although these efforts would be better directed against the far-more-common traditional hunting), but I am less clear why hunters’ groups have decried Internet hunting.

I offer two possible theories.  First, Internet hunting may violates hunters’ norms because it democratizes the experience of hunting.  Once democratized, hunting doesn’t seem very impressive and loses any mystique.  Instead, when anyone can easily engage in hunting, it becomes about as sporting as processing a cow for beef.

Alternatively, perhaps the reaction to Internet hunting is a typical overreaction to technology, similar to the many other situations where socially-accepted offline behavior suddenly creates panic when conducted online.  In this context, perhaps the already-dubious ethics of hunting suddenly degrade when viewed through a technological lens.

The furor over Internet hunting has had one unexpected benefit—it has prompted us to reconsider our views about hunting generally.  But in doing so, I can’t find any way to legitimately distinguish Internet hunting from traditional hunting.  As a result, if we choose to consider killing animals for sport as acceptable, then killing them for sport via the Internet should be acceptable as well.

 

Eric Goldman is an Assistant Professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, WI, where he teaches Cyberlaw, Legal Ethics and other courses.  His website is located athttp://www.ericgoldman.org.