Well, after the White House was forced to acknowledge that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot his friend in a hunting mishap, it decided to use its second-favorite tactic: blame-shifting.

Echoing comments made by Katharine Armstrong, the co-owner of the ranch where the shooting took place, the White House said victim Harry Whittington was to blame because he did not audibly announce his presence:

The White House blamed the 78-year-old man whom Vice President Cheney shot during a weekend quail-hunting trip in Texas for the accident, as officials struggled yesterday to explain why they waited nearly 24 hours before making the news public.

Neither Cheney nor President Bush made any public comments about the shooting. White House press secretary Scott McClellan tried to absolve Cheney for shooting wealthy Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, saying hunting protocol “was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying others that he was there.”

“Unfortunately, these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time,” he said.

However, hunting experts and at least one National Rife Association representative say this is not the case, as Cheney did not follow a basic rule of hunting:

Several hunting experts voiced skepticism about McClellan’s view. They said Cheney might have violated a cardinal rule of hunting: Know your surroundings before you pull the trigger.

“Particularly identify the game that you are shooting and particularly identify your surroundings, that it’s safe to shoot,” said Mark Birkhauser, incoming president of the International Hunter Education Association, a group of fish-and-wildlife agencies.

Safe-hunting rules published by the National Rifle Association and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department echo Birkhauser’s advice.

This Philadelphia Inquirer story goes into more detail on the NRA’s stance on these types of situations:

The National Rifle Association places the onus of responsibility on the person pulling the trigger rather than the recipient of the gunshot.

“If that was just a regular Joe Blow, they’d say it was carelessness,” said Peggy Bodner, executive vice president of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, an affiliate of the NRA.

Bodner compared an unintentional shooting to a motorist who rear-ends another car. “It’s like if you were in a car and struck somebody from behind,” she said. “Even if the other person stopped short, it’s your fault.”

The NRA drills members on three fundamental safety rules: Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, and always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Hunters add a fourth commandment: Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.

“This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot,” the NRA says on its Web site and in its promotional pamphlets. “Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second.”

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