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CASH Courier > 1998 Fall Issue

Selected Articles from our newsletter

The C.A.S.H. Courier
From the Fall 1998 Issue

THE RIGHT TO HUNT?

By Linda Hatfield

The hunting community is on a great crusade to establish the right to hunt. In Minnesota, this has become a very serious and diligent endeavor. It is their hope to amend the State’s Constitution to guarantee a right to hunt and fish. If this seems drastic, it is! The hunting community has become profusely worried or just downright paranoid that their recreation – killing for fun – may become a thing of the past. This mission is starting to reflect a reactionary national trend. Not only is Minnesota addressing this, so are the states of Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Wyoming. The state of Alabama has already amended their State’ s Constitution to guarantee hunting and fishing as a right. (The process by which this can happen is that legislation must first be introduced. After the state legislature approves the measure, it then goes onto the ballot for a statewide vote in November.)

This preemptive response is believed to be their most effective way of standing up to anti-hunting and animals rights groups who seek to curtail the activities of hunting, trapping, and fishing enthusiasts. They have fallen into this great panic state because voters in those states that have the ballot initiatives and referendums have prohibited certain hunting seasons and trapping activities. They now strongly believe that nothing less than a constitutional guarantee to hunt and fish will protect what they rightfully believe is their heritage.

This panic over losing certain hunting activities has caused the hunting community to get organized. About a year ago they formed "Ballot Issues Coalition." Many of the national hunting organizations and hunting equipment manufacturers have joined the coalition. The coalition hopes to raise $2 million to fight against the ballot initiatives relating to animal protection issues this year. They also plan to organize campaigns in favor of the hunting amendments.

State Constitutions are very much like our National Constitution. They contain the basic framework for protecting the people’s liberty, such as freedom of speech and assembly, making it the state’s most significant document. However, most State Constitutions do not grant guarantees for food, shelter, health care, a job, clean air, or clean water. Nor do they provide equal status for women or children. In short, a State Constitution should not act as repository for random political statements.

Yet, no one seems to know just what will happen if and when a right to hunt and fish amendment becomes a part of the constitution, for this constitutional amendment may present many questions and challenges to the law. A State Constitution is the supreme law of the land; it supersedes statuary laws. States that end up adopting these hunting and fishing guarantee amendments may find themselves in very expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. For example, criminal defendants charged with game and fish violations could have a new constitutional defense. It could also make it impossible for law enforcement to prevent individuals from using public lands and parks for these activities. Moreover, a constitutional guarantee to hunt has the great potential to create dangerous consequences, such as placing firearms in the hands of convicted felons and violating trespass laws. Furthermore, it could have negative impacts on Native Americans and their Treaty Rights and on endangered species protection. During the legislative committee hearings in Minnesota, representatives from Friends of Animals and Their Environment (FATE) and other animal protection groups came forward to offer testimony. Their testimonies strongly expressed the points stated in the previous paragraph. They also expressed that it seemed misplaced and misguided to elevate hunting and fishing – a recreation – over basic human needs. Minnesota legislators also heard brilliant perspectives from several constitutional scholars; high profile attorneys and law professors presented sound reasons why this amendment should not be added to the State’s Constitution. In addition, fact sheets were also distributed to the whole legislative body, citing reasons to vote against this measure. Furthermore, the HSUS and FATE hired a lobbyist to fight against the bill.

However, a greater political force was at play. The hunting lobby was applying great pressure by threatening the political careers of the legislators. As a result, the vast majority of the legislators were not at all concerned about keeping the integrity of the State’s Constitution; instead they became more fixated on votes and on the upcoming election. Even the State’s Attorney General came out in full support of the hunting amendment. It appears that he plans to use it to help him obtain the Governor’s seat in November.

Given all of this, it became quite apparent that the hunting and fishing amendment was going to prevail. Yet, the very few legislators, who wouldn’t allow themselves to be bullied by the hunting lobby, were able to remove the word "right" from the language. This is the language that the Minnesota legislature passed: Hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good.

The fight isn’t over and a statewide campaign to educate voters is underway. We can only hope that Minnesota voters will embrace the State’s Constitution and vote down this amendment in November.

Aside from this, the hunting community is being greatly shortsighted. For they seem to have failed to understand and/or recognize just what damaging effects a right to hunt can possible have. For it may very well become their own Achilles’ heal. Legislators and the Governor have always made hunting and fishing resource management decisions on an ongoing basis, depending upon the recreational interests, the biological conditions of wildlife and fish populations, and a variety of other social and economic factors. This amendment could keep resource management decisions constitutionally bound by late twentieth century thinking.

The attempt to achieve a right to hunt does, however, reflect a fear or a recognition that the world is changing. The hunting community is most worried, for they see that attitudes are continuing to change about animals and their place in the world. Killing animals for fun is becoming contrary to the ethics of a civilized society.

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