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Killt Him a Bar

The old song informs us that Davy Crocket killt him a bar when he was only three. When I was a child, we kids at the Christian school thought it very daring to reinterpret the phrase as "killt in a bar when he was only three."

Richard Ahlstrand, of Auburn, Massachusetts, killt him a bar the other day, and the police aren't happy about it.

Mr. Ahlstrand, age 76, was stocking his bird feeders when he heard a noise. He went back inside and got a shotgun and returned, to find himself suddenly charged by a black bear. Goodbye, black bear. One might think this would be a cause for rejoicing, as Mr. Ahlstrand is, you know, a human being, and hence of more value than many sparrows, much less black bears, but not so. He's being charged with illegally killing a bear, illegally baiting a bear, and failure to secure a firearm.

Evidently keeping a large gallon of birdseed outside on one's property for refilling the bird feeders is "baiting a bear," according to the police. One wonders what holding a picnic in one's back yard would be, on that reasoning.

The police imply that they are charging Ahlstrand because he heard a noise and, instead of curling up in terror inside his house, he actually went back out and got on with his life, pausing only to arm himself first. Yes, that's that old American spirit. Hear a creak in the woods near your house? Don't go back out, and above all, don't prepare to defend yourself. Call the police instead. Which means that if you live somewhere where there are animals making noises in the woods, you pretty much have to live indoors all the time and give up the use of your outside property. Oh, and also not keep bird seed or refill the feeders. I guess the birds will just have to be disappointed. Let the bears take over the yard.

One of my favorite quotes is the statement by police that the bear wasn't a threat to people. This is epistemically arrogant in the extreme, as it ignores eyewitness testimony to the contrary. Is Mr. Ahlstrand's testimony irrelevant? What do they have that allows them legally to set his testimony aside like that? Perhaps they interviewed a few bears who gave a character reference for the one who just...wandered into Ahlstrand's back yard. "She was the sweetest bear I ever knew. She wouldn't hurt a fly, much less a human. Her poor little motherless cubs..."

I'm sure PETA and co. will be pleased about these charges, but the rest of us should be outraged.

Are the police actually acting according to the law, or are they interpreting it creatively? I don't know, but either way, it should be stopped, whether by revising the law or by slapping down the charges as frivolous. This is the kind of thing that is "wrong with the world," and I hope Massachusetts voters rise up and let their voices be heard, if necessary, to make sure that it doesn't happen again and that human life is valued over bear life in the state.

Depending on whether Massachusetts has a "castle doctrine" law, Ahlstrand might have been better off if he'd killed a human burglar in his house than a charging bear outside. But perhaps the Massachusetts police would just have preferred that he'd been killt in a bar. Or in the back yard.

Comments (21)

Do you live where bears occasionally visit? Without going into detail, I do. The police are VERY clear that when a bear is nearby you do NOT put out bird feeders, and if you think a bear may be close to you or coming near your yard you do NOT go inside and get a shotgun. You wait inside and call animal control. That the bear "Wasn't a threat to people" probably means it wouldn't have been an immediate threat if simply left to its own devices.

Plus, the gun was illegal.

I can see both sides to this.

Um, did you read the story? Ahlstrand said the bear started "chasing" him. He said, “If that ever jumped on me, I wouldn’t even be here right know, I don’t think. I know it was going to seriously maul me."

I'm not saying he shouldn't have shot her when he got out. I'm saying that going outside when a bear is there with an illegal firearm against the advice of authorities might not have been too bright.

I'm deliberately setting aside the question of whether the police are correct that the gun is illegally owned.

Frankly, with this police dept., I'm not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, my _impression_ (which I'm open to having corrected) is that shotgun ownership usually requires one to jump through _fewer_ hoops than, say, handguns, so the "illegal gun" claim strikes me as a bit suspicious. It sounds like they were trying to throw the book at him.

But considering that there are three or so other charges, I think we can discuss those on their own:

Now, frankly, I don't think that you should have to get special memos from the police over what they want you to do if you hear a noise in the woods near your property. The police are "very clear"? Oh, so you mean that if I happened to live in Auburn, Massachusetts, I would need to get on the Internet or somehow get a pamphlet or something from the police on whether to take my shotgun outside (let's just imagine I own the shotgun legally, to simplify matters) if I hear a noise in the woods so that I can get on with my life?

My robust, all-American response to that is, nonsense.

The noise in the woods could have been something harmless. He was just being well-prepared. The idea that you call animal control for every noise you hear rustling in the brush is absurd and shows a level of dependency on government that is paralyzing. Imagine living on a ranch like that. You'd be on the phone with animal control non-stop, and you wouldn't be able to use your outside property.

I'm also incredulous at the idea that you aren't allowed to have bird feeders if bears are ever seen in your vicinity. That would rule out bird feeders in huge swathes of the United States. And if that's the case, why not have a local ordinance outlawing bird feeders directly? It's utterly perverse to punish someone for saving his own life on the grounds that he shouldn't have had a bird feeder, and to call it "illegally baiting a bear" adds insult to injury. He was feeding the birds, darnit! Either that's legal or it isn't in that locale. If it's legal, then let's not pretend that it was baiting a bear. Baiting a bear is, you know, trying to get a bear to come so you can shoot it. It perverts the plain meaning of words to _not_ outlaw bird feeders and then to play "gotcha" when someone is almost killed by a bear by charging him with trying to attract the bear.

As I said, if the smell of a little birdseed is such an irresistible attraction, what does that mean for having a cookout for a party of friends?

Basically, this idea that if you have food around and a bear shows up, you were "illegally baiting a bear," which means that you can't use your property for plenty of normal uses. You know, living on your property.

Finally, the police are talking out of both sides of their mouth on the question of how "known" bears are there. See this:

Chief Sluckis said bear are not common in Auburn. He said a mother and two cubs were seen in town a year ago and two years ago there were reports of another bear wandering around the town.


So if they are "not common" why again is one "baiting a bear" if one has birdseed? And why is one supposed to assume that a noise in the woods is definitely a bear?

Let me also point out: If the whole point is that he shouldn't have taken the gun outside, the only charge that would seem to refer to that is "failure to secure a firearm."

But that wasn't the only thing they charged him with. They charged that _killing the bear_ was illegal, even though it was in self-defense, and they based that on the grounds that he shouldn't have had the gun outside!

That is very twisted. Killing the bear _was_ self-defense, which _should not_ be illegal. To say, "You shouldn't have had the gun outside, you should have stayed inside" is a different thing from saying, "You shouldn't have killed the bear." If the laws on killing bears don't make an exception for self-defense, that needs to be changed, pronto. And it doesn't cease to be self-defense if the police think you shouldn't have gone back outside.

Basically, this is saying that you're only allowed to be outside on your own property if you are helpless to defend yourself and would get mauled if a bear showed up unexpectedly. Anything else is seen as _hunting_ a bear, which is a perverse interpretation of the situation. Ahlstrand was not, contrary to the charges, setting bait to get a bear to show up and then lying in wait to kill it. He wasn't hunting the bear. He was getting on with normal activities while having on-hand the wherewithal to protect himself. The law needs to allow for that.

Mr. Ahlstrand was in his own yard, right? Not the bear's yard. Mr. Ahlstrand can go in out as he pleases. He can build birdfeeders as he pleases. He likes birds. They're pretty and don't chase him around his yard trying to kill him. If stupid bear shows up, shoot bear. The bear will make a good rug. Human lives-bear dies is always a good outcome.

If he was bear baiting, he went about it in an incredibly stupid way. Putting out 1/2 pound of meat, say bacon, would have done the job a hell of a lot quicker, easier, and cheaper. As Lydia says, if bird feeders are legal, then putting out a bird feeder isn't bear baiting.

While it is possible to have a gun illegally, it is vastly more likely that this 76-year old either (a) acquired the gun legally, and can't remember where the hell he bought it 20 years ago nor where he put the records, or (b) that THERE WERE NO RULES back 50 years ago when he bought it, and he was grandfathered in when they passed rules on acquiring shotguns, or (c) he got it in a private sale that was not required to report the transaction. Just owning a shotgun, as such, is not illegal in any civil jurisdiction in the country. There is the remote possibility that the police actually ran enough data through the system to actually establish that he obtained it illegally, but the prospect is so remote as to be ridiculous on its face - given the other ridiculous asinine comments of the police: "the bear wasn't a threat to people" - based on what evidence? Far more likely is that they were unable to prove that he obtained it legally, and jumped to the conclusion that meant it was obtained illegally.

I suspect that the "failure to secure" the weapon stems from the guy just carrying it around without immediate need. Either he saw the bear before he had the gun, and so when he went inside to get the gun he could just as easily have called the police, or he didn't see the bear until after he held the gun. In the latter case, that implies that he was carrying a loaded gun around the property without having established for sure that there was a bear present, and that is being taken to constitute carrying it "not secure". You can't just carry your shotgun around your yard on your shoulder when you feel like it, according to MA law, I guess.

Thank God I live in a county where most of the law enforcement have heads on their shoulders.

When I say "very clear", I mean that when bears come into the area people know not to put out birdfeeders and to clamp down the lids on garbage cans and what have you-and the police has informed us of this. I'm not really sure how to explain except perhaps word of mouth, but it was pretty well-known, being a small suburban town and us living about five minutes or so away from the municipal building by car-I've walked there many times.

We also live in an area with a lot of children. Now my guess is that in our area putting out birdseed when you _know_ a bear is in the area would not be a crime, but it would be incredibly irresponsible with all of the children that live nearby.

In this case, I did notice some really off things-for example, since bears hadn't been seen in over a year, how was he supposed to know that putting out birdseed was baiting any bears? And then, he didn't take out the shotgun to shoot a bear-he took it out to defend himself in case the noise he heard actually ended up being dangerous. That they expected him to hole up after hearing an odd noise is rather bizarre and totally ridiculous.

So I think something that makes a difference is that we have seen _no_ evidence that he knew bears were in the area. In which case nothing that he did was even remotely controversial in the slightest, unless you want to talk about an illegal firearm.

But if a bear's in the area and you know it...don't put out birdseed. At least if you live in an area with a lot of people around.

If you don't that's another factor to consider.

The program of disarm the innocent continues.

I also don't think any reasonable interpretation can be put on the police's words that the bear "wasn't a threat to people." For example, suppose one tries to interpret them as meaning, "It wouldn't have been an immediate threat if simply left to its own devices." Well, he _did_ leave it to its own devices. He wasn't out there poking it with a stick! He was just feeding the birds. Even the anti-gun lobby hasn't yet gone to the lengths of saying that if a bear catches sight of a shotgun that vision will madden the bear to attack you so that carrying a gun where a bear might see you is provocation!

And if what they meant was, "It wasn't a threat to people if the people stay indoors," well, no kidding! That's not news. I figure most modern houses, fully locked up with all windows and doors closed, are strong enough to keep out a black bear. (A teepee or sod hut might be a different matter.) But people shouldn't have to stay in their houses all the time.

If a bear is a threat to some human walking around outdoors, peacefully feeding the birds, yes, even with a shotgun by his side, then by definition it's a threat to people.

I once had the bad luck of having a young bear, slightly older than a cub, walk into a picnic area I was in at a national park. While not very intimidating by itself, if that young bear makes any distress noises you could have a crazy mama bear chasing you down. Fortunately, a park ranger showed up a few minutes later and ordered everyone to move out so he could lead the bear away safely.

You know, in the western national parks where you are actually somewhat likely to come across a bear, the rangers make a point of telling you that ANY bear is dangerous. Even a black bear weighs a hell of a lot more than a human, has powerful muscles and long claws, and frequently kills for a living. Those features make them dangerous: if they are intent on eating you, or your sandwich, you better believe they are a problem of major proportions. So, the critical question becomes just how intent are they on getting something of you or yours?

As far as locking up a modern house: a bear doesn't think of windows as a major impediment. They don't think of solid doors or siding as inherently off limits either - a stubborn bear can rip away at either until he makes a hole. The main question becomes (again) how intent he is on getting in, and how long he is willing to work at it. Put a 5 pound raw roast in the sink, and a bear that is very hungry may well break through your door or wall to get it.

MarcAnthony, in my suburb there have been 2 sightings of bears in the last 5 years. No damage or injuries were reported. To my recollection, nobody even mentioned taking measures like not putting out bird feeders, and being lots more careful of trash cans. That's just way too low an incidence for people to generally think that countermeasures are a public duty.

Also, in my reading on bear problems for campers, I don't recall any mention of birdseed as an especially worrisome issue. I would think that birdseed is a aggregate of something that normally is found highly dispersed, and simply does not constitute an _ordinary_ bear food, so bears should have a relatively low instinct for it - kind of like flour, for example. Nor is it something with a particularly strong odor, like toothpaste or shampoo or peanut butter. Admittedly, bears will eat anything edible, but I don't recall it being on the lists as a special problem, something likely to attract bears.

But all that is beside the point, as far as I am concerned. If bears are common enough in his area that he was supposed to not put out birdseed, and was supposed to KNOW that, then by definition it is common enough to get a gun when you hear noises and can't (yet) identify them. No matter what, the police are hitting this guy for contradictory wrongdoings. They can't be right on all counts. Possibly they just threw all the mud they could think of, waiting to see what sticks. That's not acceptable police behavior.

Admittedly, bears will eat anything edible, but I don't recall it being on the lists as a special problem, something likely to attract bears.

A 50-gallon drum of anything edible is going to attract a bear unless it is airtight. Which makes the bear's reported behavior unusual, because why would it wait for the owner to be outside to go after the food?

No matter what, the police are hitting this guy for contradictory wrongdoings. They can't be right on all counts.

Perhaps the failing to secure a firearm, whatever that means. The suspect's statement should inform in determining whether shooting the bear was planned or not.

Ahlstrand said he was carrying the shotgun Friday night because he thought he saw the bear in his yard Thursday.

There's a fairly well documented case of a chap who "kilt him with a stick"

Beat that, Davy Crocket!

(Admittedly, Jim West was 45 and had some help from his dog...)


Incredibly, animal rights activists wanted Mr West to be prosecuted. They claimed he was bear hunting. With a 1.5 meter long stick 80cm in diameter...

It's an extraordinary story, though.



How can what this man has done be called illegal? If there was even the slightest chance that the bear, a dumb, animal without feelings, could have caused him, a human being, to be harmed, then he had the right to act in whichever way he saw fit. Even if he had not been at risk, Ahlstrand acted with bravery and valour by shooting a violent creature that, had it not harmed him, would certainly go on to hurt someone else, perhaps someone defenceless, such as a child. What kind of society do we live in where our own police tell us to put our lives on hold and hide in our homes just to avoid angering an emotionless beast?

That was no ordinary bear. That was the most foul, cruel, and bad tempered rodent you ever set eyes on. Look, that bear had a vicious streak a mile wide, it was a killer.

Ignore Step2, Lorcan. I agree with you, with the slight caveat that the bear wasn't _certain_ to go on to harm someone else, but that outcome wasn't at all implausible. Especially if some poor child's parents had, gasp, bird seed in the yard. Bear-baiting, y'know.

the bear, a dumb, animal without feelings

Hey. Bears have feelings.

it was a killer

It would have been, but the human killed it first. Don't you love it when the good guys win? You know, the ones who look like you. The ones with immortal souls, image of God and all that.

Don't you love it when the good guys win?

The police enforced the law, so I do appreciate the good guys.

Well, you can be accused of question-begging, but not of specieism.

"Ahlstrand said he was carrying the shotgun Friday night because he thought he saw the bear in his yard Thursday."

This is a clear cut case of poaching. There are certain protocols one follows when potentially dangerous non-human animals are around. If one saw a bear and then went out armed the next day at a time when it was likely to be abroad ... "Honest, the bear charged me," yeah sure.

Bears are omnivorous and will eat anything as will racoons, that is why I keep my birdseed in a secure area. I live with both as well as mountain lions (two sightings so far this year) and bobcats. The bears come around in late summer - fall for our plums and apples. I guess I could cop an attitude, "it's my property," they were here first) out of fear or malice but I prefer to live and let live.

Of course, given his age, this might be just bad judgment and it might be a good time to check out his driving skills.

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