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
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
peoples liberty, such as freedom of speech and assembly,
making it the states 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 States 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 States Constitution; instead they became
more fixated on votes and on the upcoming election. Even the States
Attorney General came out in full support of the hunting amendment.
It appears that he plans to use it to help him obtain the Governors
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 wouldnt 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
The fight isnt over and a statewide campaign
to educate voters is underway. We can only hope that Minnesota
voters will embrace the States 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.