A constitutional right to hunt? Voters in three states to decide.
Voters in at least three states will decide whether to enshrine a right to hunt in constitutions. Critics see the measures as a political 'wedge' issue.
Little Rock, Ark.
Mark Simpson ventures into the woods every weekend during deer season. He began hunting with his dad 35 years ago and says he can't imagine a time when hunting would be banned.Skip to next paragraph
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"Entire families get together every year," says Mr. Simpson of Little Rock, Ark. "There is a fellowship element."
Worries that hunting will one day be banned or restricted – the result of the work of animal rights activists or of "liberals" in control of Congress – are leading more states to establish "a right to hunt and fish" in their state constitutions. This year, residents of Tennessee, Arkansas, and South Carolina will vote on right-to-hunt initiatives, and North Carolina and other states may yet add hunting-related constitutional amendments to their ballots. [Editor's note: This sentence was changed to reflect the fact that North Carolina does not currently have a right-to-hunt amendment on the ballot. The gun lobby plans in May to push the legislature to add one.]
"It's better to be safe on the front end than wait and deal with the problem when it's too late," says Steve Faris (D), an Arkansas legislator who sponsored a ballot measure to make hunting a constitutional right here. "Hunting is a right that is a given, but it could be taken away – especially when we see more lawsuits asking for all kinds of hunting to be banned."
A constitutional hunting right
Ten states already include the right to hunt in their constitutions. Vermont, way back in 1777, gave its citizens a right "to have the liberty in seasonable times, to hunt and fowl on the lands they hold, and on other lands not inclosed." Rhode Island guaranteed that right in 1844.
More recently, Alabama in 1996 added hunting and fishing rights to its constitution. Since then, other states have followed suit. In 2008, a right-to-hunt amendment passed with 80 percent approval in Oklahoma.
In Arkansas, a recent poll shows 54 percent of residents support the initiative.
But this isn't an issue solely in the South. California, too, is considering such a protection.
"It goes to the liberal nature of our nation's government and California's government. We are going to lose all our gun rights," says state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R). "They do it incrementally. We should lock in the right to hunt for hunters and outdoorsmen and ensure it won't be taken away." (For previous Monitor coverage about what's fueling concerns of gun rights advocates, click here.)
A 'solution in search of a problem'?
The National Rifle Association (NRA) sees the loss of hunting rights as a real threat. Critics, on the other hand, call it a manufactured "wedge" issue – like gay marriage and so-called partial-birth abortion – to bring out voters for conservative candidates in swing states.