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Illegal baiting of waterfowl deserves more than a slap on the wrist | READER COMMENTARY

Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder, 65, a former Baltimore County Councilman, has been charged with illegally hunting waterfowl on Thanksgiving. File. (Courtesy Calvert Hall).

OK, it’s not the crime of the century, but the recent apprehension of Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder for illegal hunting is a much bigger deal than the brevity of The Baltimore Sun’s coverage would suggest (“Maryland Agriculture Secretary Bartenfelder charged with bird hunting offense,” Nov. 29). Reportedly, Bartenfelder, his son and three other young people were charged with “hunting wetland or upland game birds with the help of bait or over a baited area.” His son was further charged with carrying an improper weapon and failing to have the required hunting permit.

Responsible hunters know when and where and how it is OK to hunt. This seems, by any stretch of the imagination, to not be responsible hunting. It seems to be, besides unsportsmanlike, against the law.

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Unlike some instances of malfeasance by public officials, such as speeding on the highway, this would not be a momentary lapse in judgment. It takes a lot of forethought and planning to wind up with four companions, armed for hunting, in a cornfield. On Thanksgiving Day, no less. Did they, perhaps, think that law enforcement would be less vigilant on the holiday? One has to wonder. In any case, as the senior member of the party, the 65-year-old state cabinet member must bear the major responsibility for the outing.

What happened here was evidently a brazen, knowing and deliberate violation of state law. It is no minor thing for a high-ranking government official to commit such an offense. Too often we’ve seen officials of all political parties and stripes thumb their noses at the laws and get away with it. In view of the horrifying storm of gun violence that we are living through, this reasoning holds with even greater force to violations involving firearms.

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Senior government officials have an especially serious and solemn responsibility not only to obey the laws, but to show proper honor and respect for the vital glue that the laws provide in holding our society together. If they are guilty as charged, we can ask if Secretary Bartenfelder and friends thought it would be all right to do this as long as they didn’t get caught? What a disgraceful example that would set for others!

Wanton violation of the law, as apparently committed by Bartenfelder and his companions, cannot be adequately dealt with by a mere financial penalty. That would amount to no more than a slap on the wrist for those involved. If Mr. Bartenfelder is found guilty, then after making a public apology for his offense, he must resign his official position immediately.

— Bradley Alger, Baltimore

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