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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.

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"We haven't opposed these measures," says Michael Markarian of the Humane Society of the United States. "We don't really view them as having much of an impact. These proposals are a solution in search of a problem. Every state allows hunting." The amendments, he adds, play to people's emotions.

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At the NRA, spokesman Andrew Arulanandam calls that a "bogus assertion." (For Monitor coverage of last year's NRA convention, click here.)

"We push [this] in state legislatures in election years and nonelection years," says Mr. Arulanandam. "Party affiliation is not an issue. This is a heritage issue." Certain groups, he asserts, are trying to "diligently dismantle" the right to hunt and to make hunting or fishing illegal.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) cries foul.

"The proposed amendment [in Arkansas] is frivolous and would clutter up the state's most important charter of government," says PETA spokeswoman Laura Lopez. "The amendment would ... open the door to a flood of other amendments whose sole purpose is to make political statements to benefit special-interest groups."

If Arkansas voters reject the amendment, she says, people will still be able to hunt and fish.

The case of Michigan's mourning doves

Hunting restrictions are already occurring, says the NRA, citing a recent case in Michigan.

The mourning dove, Michigan's state songbird, had been off limits to hunters since 1905, but in 2004, the state again allowed dove hunting. Two years later, voters rejected the shooting of mourning doves, after an intense campaign fueled on either side by millions of dollars from pro-gun and antihunting groups.

The NRA fears that bans will spread to larger game, such as deer and bear, and eventually lead sport hunting to be classified in the same category as cockfighting.

Hunters, moreover, are increasingly in the minority. In 2006, 12.5 million people hunted, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1995, the number was 15.3 million, and in 1970, 44 million. Still, hunting is a $20 billion-a-year industry that employs 300,000.

Smaller cities are joining the ban-hunting effort, says Stephen Halbrook, a Virginia lawyer and author of the book "The Founders' Second Amendment."

"There's an urbanization of life," he says. "People think meat comes from the grocery. Rural values are going by the wayside."

[Editor's note: The headline and subhead of this story were changed to account for the fact that three, not four, states have right-to-hunt initiatives on their November ballots. North Carolina legislators have yet to decide whether to ask for a constitutional amendment on the matter.]

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