Indiana seeks constitutional protections for hunting, adds ‘right to produce’ to proposal

Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin are the three Midwestern states in which hunting is a constitutional right. Indiana might eventually become the fourth now that legislation has been passed that begins the multi-year process of putting the issue before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment. 

 

Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin are the three Midwestern states in which hunting is a constitutional right.

Indiana might eventually become the fourth now that legislation has been passed that begins the multi-year process of putting the issue before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment.

And SJR 9 actually goes a step further than those other amendments: It seeks to ensure the right not only to hunt and fish, but also to “engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products.”

The sponsor of SJR 9, Indiana Sen. Brent Steele, says a previous effort to add the amendment to the Indiana Constitution failed. He is hopeful that the outcome will be different this time around, in part because of the addition of the language on agriculture.

The measure, he says, brings together two constituencies — hunters and farmers — that see themselves as under attack by animal-rights activists.

“I looked at the Humane Society of the United States website and saw how they wanted to end all animal-based protein. They were against both modern agriculture and hunting,” Steele says. “I decided that adding farming would put the wind beneath the wings of the bill” in terms of helping it pass.

The Senate approved the legislation 44-5, and the House passed it 75-12.

In 2005, a version of Indiana’s right-to-hunt constitutional amendment (without the language on animal agriculture) was passed by both legislative chambers. However, before being placed on the ballot, any proposed amendment approved in one session must also be passed by the legislature chosen after the next general election. The right-to-hunt measure failed to pass the Indiana House in 2007.

Nebraska legislators are also advancing a bill (LR40CA) this session to establish in the state constitution “the right to hunt, to fish, and to harvest wildlife and to state that public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife.”

These recent actions in the Midwest are the continuation of a national trend. Last year, residents in four states outside the region voted on whether to extend constitutional protections to include the right to hunt and fish; the measures passed overwhelmingly in Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas. The proposal was voted down in Arizona.

Thirteen states now have these constitutional guarantees in place. Two others have language that constitutionally guarantees only the right to fish, while some states have included trapping in the language.

These proposals are designed “to head off possible attacks by animal rights/anti-hunting groups,” according to the United States Sportsmen’s Alliance. Opponents of these state measures have said they trivialize constitutions by establishing protections for hobbies such as hunting, and that they also could allow criminals to claim a constitutional “right” to hunt — and, as a result, the right to buy a gun.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 12.5 million Americans hunted and 30 million fished in 2006, the last date such numbers are available.

In addition to the constitutional amendments being proposed in Indiana and Nebraska, another Midwestern state took action on a hotly debated hunting issue. Iowa’s SF 464 was signed into law in March. It gives the state Natural Resources Commission the authority to add mourning doves to the list of game birds that can be hunted legally.

With Iowa’s actions, Michigan is now the only state in the Midwest state without a dove hunting season.

Opponents of dove hunts argue that the bird has little value as game and is simply shot for target practice. In 2006, Michigan voters defeated a ballot referendum calling for a dove-hunting season.