The French Senate has spent recent weeks hearing comments and recommendations from various parties involved in or opposed to hunting, after a petition calling for stricter safety rules reached 120,000 signatures and was thus accepted for debate.
The ‘Un jour, un chasseur’ petition was created by the friends of Morgan Keane, a 25-year-old man who was shot and killed by a hunter while chopping wood in his garden in Lot in 2020. The hunter claimed he had mistaken him for a wild boar.
Mila Sanchez, one of the co-founders of the petition, told senators that: “On December 2, 2020, in the middle of lockdown, our childhood friend and neighbour Morgan Keane was killed by a hunter who said he mistook him for a wild boar.
“The next day, Lot’s public prosecutor said that all safety rules had been followed.
“We’re talking about a bullet to the chest in his garden, and they talk about respecting the safety rules? Talking about safety rules when they are killing people and allowing such tragedies to happen within a legal framework is making oneself complicit in these deaths and trivialising them.
“Legislators who take the risk of making 98% of the population coexist with 2% of hunters whose bullets are uncontrolled and can kill over a distance of up to three kilometres is therefore responsible for the accidents which can therefore occur,” fellow campaigner Léa Jaillard said.
“These tragedies are not exceptional cases or accidents, but the consequences of an issue with the law which authorises the use of weapons in public spaces, even though their reach and their trajectory cannot be controlled by hunters.”
The two women gave accounts of 52 incidents which had occurred over the four months leading up to the end of 2021, including 11 injuries and one death (not including hunters).
‘Measures need to be put in place urgently,’ Ms Sanchez said.
Un jour, un chasseur is calling for two hunt-free days a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. A recent Ifop study suggested that 69% of people in France would support a proposal to ban hunting during weekends and holidays, which was made by Europe Écologie - Les Verts presidential candidate Yannick Jadot.
The petition also calls for stricter training programmes, as “it is obvious that the existing training and safety rules are insufficient,” Ms Jaillard said.
A spokesperson for Un jour, un chasseur told The Connexion that: “We do not know if the Senate’s report on the subject, which will be published in July 2022, will follow up the demands of our petition and will result in a bill.”
While they wait for the outcome of the Senate’s considerations, “the trial of the hunter [who shot Mr Keane] should take place this year, but we have not had a date yet.”
The Senate also heard from representatives of anti-hunting groups, including Jean-Louis Chuilon, president of the Alliance des Opposants à la Chasse.
He said: “The training associated with a permit lasts for one day, and when you sit the exam you spend a quarter of an hour in a room watching video clips and a half hour shooting at moving targets.
“And then you have your permit. We think that this is absolutely insufficient. We want safety rules to be proposed by ministers and made uniform.”
Minister calls for ‘Increasing respect for rules’
Last week, senators also heard an account from Secretary of State for Biodiversity Bérangère Abba (La République en Marche !), who spoke of the “importance of looking together at what could or should be improved.
“We have met families who are grieving as a result of these accidents and we must accept that we must think [about potentially changing the safety rules] in order to keep progressing in the prevention of these risks.
She added that she hopes to develop a tool which “in the very near future” will enable people around France to find out when and where exactly hunts are occurring, commenting that: “I think that this is absolutely necessary and useful, and that it could lead to a drop in these localised incidents.”
However, Ms Abba also argued that measures are already in place, especially since laws regarding hunting safety regulations were tightened in 2019.
Hunters must register their guns as well as having a hunting permit, and hunting parties should always put up signs warning passersby around the area where they are carrying out their activities.
Ms Abba did concede that safety controls are sometimes not followed, saying that failure to respect the 30-degree angle rule – which bans hunters from shooting in the 60 degrees in their left and right peripheral vision – could be at the root of 35% of accidents.
“If we manage to significantly increase respect for these rules, we will make a big difference.”
Finally, Ms Abba also reminded listeners that the number of hunting accidents has declined significantly over the last 20 years.
Following the recent death of a 25-year-old hiker who is believed to have been hit by a stray bullet fired by a 17-year-old hunter, Ms Abba’s colleague Barbara Pompili, who is minister for ecological transition, has said that she is in favour of banning minors from hunting.
“This young girl will live her whole life with what happened. Should we let that weigh on the shoulders of a child?,” she asked.
Ms Pompili also said that “it is the moment for everyone to get together and think about hunt-free days, but this should be done area by area,” a point which Ms Abba also raised during the Senate discussion.
Hunting federations argue that ‘zero-risk cannot exist’
The president of the Fédération nationale des chasseurs, Willy Schraen, was also invited to speak.
“One death caused by hunting is and always will be one death too many,” he began by saying.
“We condemn any shot which does not follow safety rules. I am not minimising the importance of safety in any way.”
However, he added that other sports can be just as dangerous as hunting: “A pair of skis can also be a lethal weapon, as recent events have proved to us.
“Hunting is already regulated; rules exist and they are numerous. Adding new ones will not change anything.”
Mr Schraen also stressed that accident numbers have fallen in recent years and that several federations have signed agreements with other nature users such as walkers or cyclists.
“Federations are very active in terms of prevention. They distribute posters and safety information documents,” he said.
However, “we feel keenly the absence of a hunting police, and I am sure that certain accidents could have been avoided by more checks and through fear of an officer passing by. In the absence of police, a certain laxity is born with regards to safety rules.
Mr Schraen concluded by saying: “Hunting is a legal and popular activity, which emerged in the first hours of the French Revolution. It embodies the spirit of individual French liberties.
“Zero-risk cannot exist, just as it cannot exist in any activity.”
Patrick Chaize, who is chairing the Senate discussions, has said that he hopes to be able to provide a response to the Un jour, un chasseur petition.
“This response will be the culmination of work, of consideration, of different accounts from all the stakeholders involved,” he said.
“The success of this project will depend on getting everyone involved around the table so that people can talk to each other. This is simple on paper, but perhaps less easy in real life.”
The Senate is working through 40 audiences with different groups and individuals, before publishing its report in the summer, after April’s presidential election campaigning is over.