One of my favorite cartoon programs was "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," featuring a lovable moose by the name of Bullwinkle and his little squirrel sidekick, Rocky. Sometimes when social studies classes were getting too stuffy to hold seventh graders’ attention, I’d slip into an imaginary conversation using the voices of those two characters.
"Hey, Bullwinkle, why are we building this Panama Canal? I haven’t seen mosquitoes this big since we left Alaska!"
"Rocky, the Panama Canal will save weeks of time for ships which would otherwise have to circle South America."
That worked pretty well back when kids knew who Bullwinkle and Rocky were. It got kind of lame when kids quit watching innocent cartoon shows and started playing 3D games that teach them how to kill people as blood splatters over the screen.
And people wonder why our morals are sliding downhill?
Last week I sat straight up and took intent notice as the Covington City Council voted to continue issuing permits for the shooting of squirrels. Despite the potential conflict with an ordinance prohibiting the discharge of firearms within the city limits, any resident can, for $15, obtain legal permission to go squirrel hunting in their own back yard.
I’m excited about this because I’ve invested a lot of time and a fair amount of money in a bunch of bird feeders and four birdbaths, which form my little sanctuaries of peace and quiet.
The friendly folks at Mayfield’s Ace Hardware can testify that I’ve diligently helped the bird feed industry thrive in these times of economic peril. I’ve even bought "critter food" and other treats to keep squirrels off the feeders intended to benefit my beloved feathered friends, all to no avail.
A few weeks ago a news report detailed how British citizens are waging war upon the American gray squirrel. Seems the British red squirrel, native to those parts, has been very nearly run out of its habitat by the more aggressive U.S. cousins, which were brought to England as a curiosity for zoo exhibits. Some decades ago the gray squirrels were loosed, a move the Brits now lament, so in England it’s open season, perpetually, on the gray squirrel. Many Brits use .22 rifles equipped with scopes and noise suppressors — or "silencers" — to knock off the squirrels.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not about our right to bear arms. The Second Amendment gives all Americans the right to defend themselves, and I firmly believe that insurance by Smith & Wesson is the best deterrent to crime.
But this is about the squirrels of Covington.
Embracing the British notion, I took my dusty Winchester Model 74 .22 rifle to Piedmont Outfitters just west of town to ask about scopes, silencers and ammo. I was shown some .22 caliber "Colibri" ammunition which packs only the primer charge with no gunpowder, yielding an effective range of about 50 yards.
I then talked to Social Circle gunsmith, Steve Cocroft, who quoted me $50 per hole drilled to mount a hunting scope on the ‘chester, and $75 to thread the barrel to accept a silencer.
"The Trading Place" in Monroe, a Class 3 firearms dealer, has a stainless steel silencer for about $350. I’ll have to register with the Feds for the silencer, and pay a fee.
So, having learned that for about $700 I can convert my old .22 rifle into a state-of-the-art squirrel snuffer, I took a little trip to the Covington Police Department.
Officer Wendall Wagstaff has been with the police force here since 1989, and graciously took the time to address my concerns. We talked about how close to my neighbor’s property line I could fire a weapon, how close to the street I could be, whether it would be wise to require citizens to take a firearms safety course before being issued a permit, what to do if neighborhood children were doing silly things like climbing trees or riding bicycles in my line of fire.
Officer Wagstaff clarified the city ordinance as it stands, and reminded me of the moratorium on permits while our city attorney reworks the language of the ordinance.
Finally, in the best interest of public safety, I canvassed my neighborhood to ask this question: how safe would you feel if good neighbor Nat took his rifle, his trifocals and a few cold beers out in his back yard to shoot at squirrels?
Not a single person favored that at all. Not one.
You see, folks, three of my neighbors’ homes are within 50 yards of my back yard. Ten more neighbors come close to being in range of my front yard. Our neighborhood has regenerated; it’s been absolutely wonderful to have young children riding bikes again, to see grandparents pushing infants in strollers, to hear neighbors enjoying convivial conversations as they check the mail or walk their dogs.
Picture our tranquil street — and along comes ole Nat in his cammies, smeared with grease paint, cracking open a cold beer and emptying a clip at those pesky squirrels.
Hey, since I fattened those little rascals up with my bird feed, I’d probably be arrested for hunting a baited field.
Folks, I think you catch my drift here, don’t you? We need to can this squirrel shooting thing. This ain’t the wild, wild, west. And it’s not about our right to bear arms and to defend ourselves.
No. It’s just that none of us needs to hear that lovable moose, Bullwinkle, frantically bellowing at the top of his lungs:
"Run, Rocky, run ! Ole Nat’s got a gun !"
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.