Imagine a beautiful day out on a boat enjoying the sun and the beauty of the river. Suddenly shots ring out.
Shot fragments and bits of lead, steel, and other metals are raining down all around you. How can it be that you are in this beautiful public place on a scenic recreational river, and yet be at risk for a face full of shot fragments?
What if you had brought your family, your children?
You turn to look where the shots are coming from, and you see a curtain of fabric. The shots are coming from behind (and over and through) the curtain. Hidden behind that curtain is a live pigeon shoot, and the shooters are aiming their guns toward the river you are boating on.
How can this be allowed to happen?
If a gun club shot at targets in the air above a park where parents took their kids to play, would anyone doubt that the shooting would be stopped as inherently unsafe? If a gun club shot into the air above a bike path, would anyone doubt that there was a major safety risk? What about allowing a gun club to shoot into the air above a highway used by convertible cars with their tops down? Motorists would be exposed to shot that can cause eye injuries and cut faces, necks and hands.
So why is the Philadelphia Gun Club, located in Bensalem, PA, allowed to shoot out over a motorized travel route, a public water trail, and a recreational area at the very time these areas are used by an unsuspecting public?
The Delaware River is a playground and travel corridor used year round by paddlers, anglers, birders, and fast moving motorboats.
The only obstacle between the shooters, the river and potential human victims is a heavy curtain which the gun club has hung to hide their actions on the site and, they assert, to prevent shots from leaving the site.
This curtain does not protect river users from the rain of gun shot fragments.
For over 100 years, the Philadelphia Gun Club has been holding live pigeon shoots, sometimes up to 12 shoots a year. Live pigeons are purchased and, reportedly, kept for days without food or water so they are starving and dehydrated. Wounded pigeons that have been rescued from the gun club have been emaciated, dehydrated and starved to the point of death.
On the day of the shoot, pigeons are stuffed into wooden boxes that launch the birds into the air in front of a designated shooter. Few pigeons escape without mortal wounds. Some of the wounded birds that escape the shooting area manage to fly above the curtain and out over the river only to fall into the cold river water and drown.
The curtain hung by the gun club does not stop fragments from raining down over the river.
Boaters with no body protection power through the area at their own risk. Shot falls with enough force to break skin and cause injury to a person sitting still in a kayak. Imagine the harm to a person traveling at a high rate of speed on a motor boat?
And yet the Coast Guard, local police, and other officials do nothing to stop the harm.
What’s more, the gun shots that rain down on the river are pollution—they are a substance that does not belong in our rivers and the important habitats they sustain. And yet the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has sided with the gun club, saying no permits are required for this ongoing pollution discharge.
It’s time to stop the safety hazard; it’s time to stop the pollution; it’s time to stop the abuse inflicted upon the live pigeons who have done nothing to be subjected to this horror.
Only three groups are taking the pollution, safety and animal abuse activities at the site seriously:
- SHARK (SHowing Animal Respect and Kindness) has dedicated time, attention, and taken action to stop the shoots and save pigeons. They sit in boats during the shoots to rescue any injured birds they can. They have tried to get legislators to act to stop the animal abuse. In return, the Philadelphia Gun Club has targeted SHARK and is attempting to bring legal action to silence and punish the group.
- The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has dedicated time and resources to stop the pollution and safety hazards posed by the shoots. When they are on the water collecting evidence of the pollution and dangers posed by the gun club, they have assisted in efforts to rescue and save injured birds falling into the river. So far, the courts, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard and legislators have evaded calls for action, instead allowing the shoots to continue through inaction.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the only environmental agency taking potential contamination at the site seriously. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has filed a petition asking the EPA to consider whether there is enough lead contamination at the site from 100 years of shoots to warrant mandatory clean up under federal law. However, the Philadelphia Gun Club is being less than forthcoming in allowing the EPA to enter the site to conduct needed tests.
It’s time for Pennsylvania politicians to hear that the public is concerned and the world is watching. Please sign a statement of concern and let public officials know that this safety hazard is not acceptable and you expect them to act. When enough statements are received, they will be delivered to Pennsylvania politicians to urge them to act.
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Apprentice Editor: Sarah Qureshi / Editor: Renée Picard