The Cheney shooting: Blame the victim

When the spin doesn't wash.

Published February 13, 2006 5:15PM (EST)

As medics raced Henry Whittington to a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared before reporters to apologize for shooting the 78-year-old lawyer and to say that the incident underscored the need for firearms safety. "I can't begin to say how sorry I am," a teary-eyed Cheney told the press. "It just goes to show, you can't be too careful around guns."

No, wait. That didn't happen.

The vice president of the United States shot a man in Texas Saturday, and the White House responded by saying nothing at all. Although the Office of the Vice President apparently informed Andy Card and Karl Rove, who together briefed the president on the incident Saturday night, the White House didn't bother to notify the press. Cheney didn't go before the cameras. And when the story finally came out, Cheney's office and the Bush-Cheney "Pioneer" who owns the land on which Cheney was hunting did everything they could to make it clear that Cheney "didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do."

Except, as one astute War Room reader observes, "He shot a person instead of a bird."

Now, we can't claim to be experts in gun safety, but we do know something about the way this White House spins the news. And having read the account of the incident in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and compared it with the gun safety rules provided by the National Rifle Association, we can say that something doesn't quite wash here.

The Caller-Times account comes from ranch owner Katharine Armstrong, a lobbyist and political appointee of then Gov. George W. Bush who comes from a family of heavyweight Texas Republicans. In her version of the story, Whittington fires at some quail, hangs back from the group to search for one of the downed birds and is approaching the rest of his hunting party from the rear when Cheney, following a bird that has taken flight in front of him, swings around and fires at Whittington.

Armstrong says that Whittington should have announced himself as he approached the group. "If you drop out of line, you say you are coming up behind [to] indicate to other shooters so you know they are there," she told the Caller-Times.

That's all well and good, although we've got to wonder -- as one blogger did this morning -- how pleased Cheney and his hunting partners would have been if Whittington had shouted out a "Yoo-hoo" from 30 yards away as they prepared to sneak up on a covey of skittish quails.

But more to the point, the NRA's gun safety rules make it clear that whatever Whittington's faults in not announcing his presence, the man who pulls the trigger is the one who's responsible for hitting things -- or people, say -- who happen to be in the line of fire.

The NRA's gun safety rule No. 1: "Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction." As the NRA explains, this means: "Know your target and what is beyond. Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second."

Did Cheney think before he shot at Whittington? The only person who can answer that is Cheney, and he isn't answering anything just now. Through a spokesman, the vice president said only that he's "pleased to see" that Whittington is "doing fine and in good spirits."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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