Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Right to Hunt and Fish Does Not Belong in Indiana’s Constitution

Portions of this post were originally published on February 9, 2011 in a post entitled “You Have Got to (Cluck) Be Kidding Me”.

As I think I’ve previously said on an occasion or twelve, constitutions (whether that of the United States or the State of Indiana) are important documents. They represent the basic framework under which our government works and provide a broad description of rights retained by citizens. Constitutions are for the “big stuff” and aren’t the place to deal with the mundane. Thus, I want to look at one of the dumbest proposed constitutional amendments that I’ve ever seen:

(a) The right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife:

(1) is a valued part of Indiana's heritage; and
(2) shall be forever preserved for the public good.

(b) The people have a right, which includes the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to the laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly to:

(1) promote wildlife conservation and management; and
(2) preserve the future of hunting and fishing.

(c) Hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

(d) This section shall not be construed to limit the application of any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights

The proposed amendment was sponsored by eight Indiana Republican legislators and was supported by Gov. Pence. Both the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International support the amendment while The Humane Society and the Hoosier Environmental Council oppose it. If adopted, this provision would be enshrined in Indiana’s Bill of Rights.

There are so many problems with this proposed amendment that it’s hard to pick a good place to start.

First, is this really the sort of provision that needs to be added to our Constitution? And, just in case you’re not sure, here are the titles of all of the other provisions in Indiana’s Bill of Rights, to which this “right” to hunt and fish would be added:

Inherent rights · Right to worship · Freedom of religious opinions · Freedom of religion · No religious test for office · No state money for religious institutions · Religion no bar to competency of witnesses · Mode of oath administration · Freedom of thought and speech · Libal, truth as defense [sic] · Search and seizure · Openess of the courts, Speedy trial [sic] · Rights of accused, Rights of victims · Double jeopardy and self-incrimination · Rights of persons arrested · Excessive bail or fines, Cruel and unusual punishment · Bailable offenses · Penal code and reformation · Criminal cases—Jury determination · Civil cases--Right of trial by jury · Compensation for services and property · Debts—Imprisonment exemption · Equal privileges and immunities · Ex post facto laws · Laws—Taking effect · Suspension of laws · Habeas corpus · Treason defined · Treason, proof · Effect of conviction · Right of assemblage and petition · Arms—Right to bear · Military · Quartering of soldiers · Titles of nobility · Freedom of emigration · Slavery—prohibition

If you’re curious about any of those rights, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read them (I bet very few Hoosiers have ever actually read even a small part of Indiana’s Constitution).

But anyway, does the right to “hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife” belong in that list? How does it compare to things like the right to worship, freedom of religion, search and seizure, double jeopardy, right of trial by jury, and slavery? Think about how our Bill of Rights would read: “… Section 36. Freedom of emigration. Section 37. Slavery—prohibition. Section 38. Freedom to hunt and fish.” Wow, what a modern state we must be!

Query whether there is any real concern that hunting, fishing, or harvesting wildlife are in jeopardy here in Indiana. Has anyone seriously proposed prohibiting hunting, fishing, or harvesting wildlife? And other than discussions about whether we should ban “hunting” animals who are in cages, have there been any real discussions about limiting the right to hunt, fish, or harvest wildlife? If not, why do we need to protect these “rights” and why do we need to do so in the Constitution?

Think of some of the other “rights” that we all know that we have but that aren’t in the Constitution: the right to procreate, the right to name our children as we choose (not true in some European countries…), the right to marry who we want (within limits … sorry … couldn’t resist), the right to speak whatever language we want, the right to play a guitar or piano, the right to put mayonnaise on your roast beef sandwich (though, if you do so, I may never speak to you again). I could go on and on. There are plenty of things that we can do that we haven’t bothered to put into our Constitution. Why are hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife so important? There are also many things that are important parts of our heritage that aren’t enshrined in our Constitution. Where is the right to play basketball?

I’m also curious about the meaning of the phrase “shall be forever preserved for the public good”. What does that even mean? Does it mean that the right is a public good or does it mean that hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife are a public good? And how are we supposed to preserve either of those things for the public good? If someone doesn’t want to fish or hunt , must we require them to do so? And by “public good” do we mean that the product of hunting and fishing is a resource belonging to the State and its citizens? And how exactly is killing an unarmed deer in the woods or putting a hook through a fish’s gills before throwing it back into the water a “public good”? How do either of those things benefit the public, generally, or me, in particular?

The right of people to hunt and fish includes “traditional methods”. What does that mean? I suppose that shooting animals with guns or bows and using lures for fish are traditional methods. But what about setting traps in the woods or stringing nets across streams and rivers? Those seem like traditional methods, too. So does this amendment provide a constitutional right to stretch a net across the white river or place traps in your local woods? (“Oops, sorry Mrs. Smith, we didn’t mean for little Billy to get caught in our beaver trap; we’ll pay for the surgery to amputate his foot…”)

Note further that section (b) is written quite poorly. Do the limitations set forth in subparagraphs (1) and (2) apply to “laws prescribed by the General Assembly” or only to “rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly”? That sort of ambiguity is likely to lead to disagreement and litigation and could easily have been addresses before the amendment was approved by the General Assembly.

More importantly, look at those two limitations: “(1) promote wildlife conservation and management; and (2) preserve the future of hunting and fishing”. As I read section (b), the only restrictions that can be placed on hunting or fishing are ones to “promote wildlife conservation and management” or “preserve the future of hunting and fishing” (whatever that may mean). Thus, a law that limits hunting or fishing in any way that does not promote conservation (or preserve the future of hunting and fishing) will be unconstitutional. In other words, a designated hunting season would probably be unconstitutional. Prohibitions on cruelty to animals being hunted would probably be unconstitutional. Clearly a law that prohibits hunting animals trapped in cages would be unconstitutional. And I suspect that a law prohibiting the use of dynamite to kill fish en masse would also be unconstitutional. I can even see laws written to preserve safety (e.g., wear an orange vest) being deemed unconstitutional because they might infringe on the right to hunt or fish (hey, an orange vest isn’t “traditional” is it?).

And what about laws that prohibit hunting in certain areas? I suppose that a law banning hunting in a local park might pass as one promoting wildlife conservation (presuming that the legislature that passed that law remembered to identify that as the reason for the law and not, say, the safety of park goers). But what about a law that prohibits the discharge of firearms within city limits? What about a law that prohibits hunting in residential areas? What about a law that prohibits my neighbor from shooting into my yard? Hopefully, the exception for trespass and property rights would cover that. Hopefully. But what will stop my neighbor from shooting squirrels in the common area of my neighborhood at all hours of the day? Oh, and can you hunt a stray dog?

Then, think about that next provision: “Hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife”. Really? Why? Why do we want to prefer hunting and fishing over other forms of wildlife management (birth control, relocation, fencing, and other non-lethal methods, for example)? Why are we deciding today that hunting and fishing are preferred? And remember just how difficult it is to amend our Constitution. Perhaps in a few years, we’ll discover a better way to manage and control wildlife. But we may not be able to use that method so long as some people would rather use the “preferred” method of hunting and fishing. Is that really the sort of thing to put in our Constitution? Do we provide a constitutionally preferred method to treat cancer and manage diabetes? Do we provide constitutionally preferred books or religions?

Apparently, groups like the NRA believe that:

Sportsmen have been under attack for many years by well-funded, national anti-hunting groups who demonstrate a clear disregard for both the cherished traditions of many Americans as well as responsible wildlife management in their drive to eliminate hunting and fishing.

Really? Really? So we should amend our Constitution? And query whether this is a true claim or if it is the same sort of “they’re coming to take your guns” fear-mongering at which the NRA excels. Perhaps more importantly, if a majority of Hoosier legislators, in response to the wishes of their constituents, want to impose additional restrictions on hunting or fishing, why shouldn’t we allow that? Are hunting and fishing really the sort of fundamental rights (like freedom from slavery or choice of marriage) that we need to protect in the Constitution (thus requiring a minimum of 3 years and 2 elections to change)?

This proposed amendment is a bad idea that addresses a problem that does not exist. It will create new problems, limit the ability of Hoosiers to protect themselves, and restrict our ability to change the law to reflect changing attitudes or technology. It may even be used as a way to counter efforts to enact additional gun control measures (“hey, you can’t require me to undergo a background check because if I fail the background check, how will I be able to hunt?”). In short, this amendment is nothing more than a ploy by the NRA and like-minded groups to encourage a particular hobby and to sell more guns.

Please vote no.


Back in 2011, the General Assembly passed a slightly different version of this amendment, but it was amended before being passed a second time. Here is the language of the original amendment that I wrote about:

The people have a right to hunt, fish, harvest game, or engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, or poultry, which is a valued part of our heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good, subject to laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly.

So what happened to the right to engage in agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, or poultry? Why did the legislature decide that hunting and fishing were important rights but that agriculture wasn’t? I suppose that growing kale and raising a coop full of chickens doesn’t sell many guns for the NRA.

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