29 December, 2006

A Rock and a Hard Place

Fiction, except for the rifle. I do own the gun, and shoot rocks as often as I can.

By any measure, it was a difficult situation. There was an obvious course of action in response to an obvious situation, but that situation had not quite materialized yet, and I wasn’t sure I could pull off the shot if it did.

I was standing on the balcony of my third floor apartment, staring down the barrel of my old 1943 Turkish Mauser. I had picked it up at a gun show some while back for $70, which was only a little cheaper than I could I have gotten it at Big 5. It was pretty beat up, but fired beautifully. Judging by where it came from and its condition, this rifle had very likely been fired in combat during World War II. I had also purchased a lot of real cheap ammo for it at the same show and had gotten into the habit of taking it into the mountains for some target shooting on the weekends. The ammo was 8mm caliber, and made by the same people at the same time as the gun. It was very comparable to the American 30.06 caliber rifle cartridge, but the bullet was heavier, and used less powder, but an older, more powerful powder than modern rounds. The bullet was steel jacketed, which made it essentially armor piercing. To give you an idea of what it could do, a lot of my targets were melon sized granite rocks. They tend to explode pretty spectacularly when hit. I had no scope on the rifle, since it would require some expensive modifications to the gun to mount one, but I could easily hit a four inch target at a hundred yards with the sights on the gun. My current target was significantly bigger than four inches, and a bit closer than a hundred yards.

Across the snow-covered street, and about a full block down from me, two little girls were very happily building a snowman in their front yard. Don’t worry, they weren’t my target. My target was just a few yards down the cross street by my apartment complex, violently going through some trash bins it had just knocked over. It was a grizzly bear. Considering the time of year, and its behavior, this was a hungry grizzly bear. How it had arrived in our small town, I still don’t know to this day. It should have been hibernating a state or two to the north, but here it was. Law enforcement and animal control said they were on their way, but the blizzard from last night, and the fact that the plows hadn’t made it to these streets yet, was going to make it very difficult for them.

So here was the predicament: if the hunger crazed bear turned the corner, like it looked like it was going to do any second, it likely would not hesitate to devour at least one of the girls. I had tried shouting at the girls, and had even fired a shot out across the rooftops, but just couldn’t get their attention. The noise should have frightened off the grizzly in normal circumstances, but it barely looked up from its search for food.

So I faced a choice; shoot and kill an endangered species without provocation, or wait to fire until it was charging at 40 miles an hour across my field of vision straight at the girls. If I fired first, I would definitely save the lives of the girls, but would find it very difficult to defend myself against the criminal charges that were sure to follow. I like to consider myself an environmentalist, and fully support most, if not all, laws designed to protect the wonders and beauty of the natural world. These laws provide very stiff penalties, including fines and jail time, for those who violate them, and I feel strongly that these laws are just. I also believe in the spirit of the law, not the letter, and that there could be extenuating circumstances, such as the current one. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with that view, and many powerful and rabid environmentalists would be screaming for my blood if I couldn’t prove the girls were in danger, which I couldn’t if I shot it before it charged. If I waited for it to charge first, then I would have a tricky shot to make. I was never very good at shooting moving targets, even with a shotgun, and there was no guarantee that I would bring the bear down before it reached the girls. A child could very easily die from a single swipe of a grizzly paw. And if I missed, the shot would go into a house, where it would cause untold damage, including the possibility of killing someone.

I was going to have to make a decision any second now. By any measure, it was a difficult situation.

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