Freedom is just another word for not caring who you infect in the 16 states that have refused to impose mask mandates despite rising COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Yet not even the anti-maskers seem to be squawking about their liberty being trampled in 13 of those states that require hunters to wear a particular hue in the field.
Every state save Alaska, Vermont, and Arizona requires hunters to display fluorescent orange, with an option for fluorescent pink in some instances.
And that is not all. The states also dictate how much of the color a hunter must wear, varying from 144 to 500 square inches, sometimes an entire garment. And all of it must be on the upper body.
One photo of seemingly happy compliance shows a smiling Donald Trump Jr. at a 2017 pheasant hunt in Iowa, sporting an orange vest in keeping with state law requiring, “external apparel with at least 50 percent of its surface area solid blaze orange in color: hat, cap, vest, coat, jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls.”
Donald Jr. being the same perpetual adolescent who sneeringly refused to wear a mask when attending last month’s presidential debate in Ohio. Never mind that the governor's emergency order there says: “All individuals in Ohio must wear facial coverings in public at all times when… at an indoor location that is not a residence, [or] outdoors, but unable to maintain six-foot social distance from people who are not household members.”
The goal of both such mandates is the same: safety.
One difference is that a hunter who complies with the color mandate has a gun in hand to keep an insecure guy such as Donald Jr. from feeling less than macho.
But the big difference is that Jr.’s dad has not actively sought to politicize hunter color compliance into a freedom issue. He never tweeted “LIBERATE IOWA” because hunters have to wear so much orange, without even an option for pink.
Trump has so roused his base about masks that a governor such as Doug Burgum of North Dakota talked about “the political balance of the state” when asked at a Wednesday press conference about a mandate to counter what has become the highest per capita infection and death rate of any state in the nation.
When speaking to reporters, Burgum dismissed any possible mask mandate as “unenforceable.” He did so even as he announced that he was raising the COVID-19 risk level in 16 of the state’s 53 counties to the color code for high.
“Orange,” he said.
During a Q&A at the end of the press conference, a reporter asked Burgum about the 400 square inches of fluorescent orange that the state mandates hunters wear lest they be mistaken for an animal. Burgum replied that this mandate suffered from the same essential problem as the mask mandate he rejects.
“Is there enforceability?” he asked. “I don't think with the 20 or so game and fish rangers that we have, game wardens that we have in the state of North Dakota, that anybody’s ever pulled out a tape measure to ensure whether they’ve 400 square inches of orange or not.”
In fact, the state has 36 game wardens. And last year they cited 17 people for not wearing any orange at all.
“If they don’t pay the fine, then they go to court,” Greg Freeman, communications supervisor at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
He confirmed that the mandate had one purpose,
“Strictly safety,” he said. “That’s all it’s about. Absolutely, you bet.”
He added that most people comply.
“It’s more rare not to wear orange because it’s a safety issue,” he said. “It’s required you’re supposed to wear orange… So we all wear orange.”
Back in 1958, before the orange mandate, North Dakota reported 10 fatal hunting “mistaken-for-prey” accidents. No doubt there were some hunters who resented subsequently being told what to wear and maybe complained that the bright color would scare away the deer even though the science said that the creatures would only register it as grey. The state now has no such fatal accidents at all in most years.
Of course the dangers of COVID-19 are more complex than the threat to being mistaken for a deer, but wearing a mask is also just a safety issue, absolutely, you bet. And, when you put on a mask, you are not just protecting yourself; you are also protecting others.
Freedom should not mean choosing to endanger those around you just because you do not want to wear a piece of cloth considerably smaller than 400 square inches.