Firearms Lawyer Simon Munslow answers your legal questions.

NZ Case Basis For A Lesson We Can Never Learn Too Well

Invercargill District Court, in the South Island of New Zealand, has recently sentenced Wayne Edgerton, a hunter and artist, to seven months home detention, 400 hours community service and a $10,000 emotional harm reparation for killing a fellow hunter, Adam Hill, in a hunting accident.

Wayne Edgerton was a firearms safety advocate, while Adam Hill, at the time of the accident, was wearing a blaze orange vest.

The deceased’s family has described the punishment as a slap on the wrist. I am not so sure. 

Of course, this tragedy would have devastating effect, not only on the deceased and his family, including partner and daughters, but also upon Wayne Edgerton, who must live with what he has done.

In wrongful death matters in which I have appeared, I have found that if the perpetrator has a conscience, and I suspect Mr Edgerton does as he was a firearms safety advocate, no Court can compete with the severity of punishment upon him that his mind is already inflicting upon himself, which no doubt tortures him day and night.

Shooters and safety experts will no doubt be thinking ‘how do you shoot a fellow wearing a blaze orange vest?’

Like soldiers, shooters’ minds often see what they want to see.  It is an aspect of ‘buck fever’, and can lead to a person to thinking a doe is a buck or, in the case of a WW2 incident in which a friend of my father’s wing of RAF Spitfires were shot up by US Mustangs, that a Spitfire is a ME 109.

I am a lawyer, and not a psychiatrist.  I can only defer to experts on the topic.

One of the leading experts in this field is Lt Col Dave Grossman who, aside from being a hunter, is a former US Army Ranger, paratrooper, and West Point Academy psychology professor, who specialises in an area that he calls ‘Killology’.  He is the author of the seminal works ‘On killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society’ and ‘On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace.’

Grossman writes that the human body reacts to stressful ‘fight and flight’ events by going into ‘condition black’, This involves auditory exclusion (you do not hear as well), time speeds up or slows down, loss of motor skills which may see someone fumble with bolt or safety, and tunnel vision.

Keith Wood, in a hunting blog ‘What is Buck Fever?’ (American Hunter Nov 26, 2012) postulated that ‘condition black’ was a form of ‘buck fever’ and he wrote to Grossman requesting his comments.  Grossman said it is a form of condition black, and he responded ‘absolutely…but I think there is more to it… buck fever is not just about excitement or stress. I think it is the act of killing or hunting triggering what I can call our ‘predator neurons’…that is what makes hunting so intensely satisfying…’

Grossman recommends practice and ‘tactical breathing’ to tackle this as, when under intense stress, it is this memory and training that the body falls back on.

To anyone who wants to know more, I suggest that the reader refer to his books, which are comprehensively researched and well written.

I would like to thank ‘Hunters stand’ for forwarding me the article Neil Ratley ‘Home detention for accidentally killing hunter’. June 24 2014, Southland Times, which inspired this article.




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