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Pa. debates hunting on Sabbath
Donald Gilliland, Religion News Service
July 22, 2011
5 MIN READ TIME

Pa. debates hunting on Sabbath

Pa. debates hunting on Sabbath
Donald Gilliland, Religion News Service
July 22, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa.

— Two of the most influential forces in conservative lobbying are poised to go

head-to-head this fall over an issue that some Pennsylvania

lawmakers dread might be one of the most difficult of the session.

It’s the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau vs. the National Rifle Association in a title

bout over the legalization of hunting on Sunday.

The Farm Bureau is the defending champion of one of the last remaining blue

laws that forbids hunting of most game species on the Lord’s designated day of

rest.

Apart from the religious justification for the ban, Farm Bureau members also

claim they want one day free of hunters traipsing across their property.

Hikers and bird-watchers have joined the farmers, saying they want one day a

week of bullet-free passage through Pennsylvania.

And some sportsmen also support the ban, saying the wild critters they stalk

need a day of rest as well.

Challenging that position is the Sunday Hunting Coalition, led by the National

Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation with help from a

diverse collection of national outdoor interests.

The economic benefit of extending hunting to Sunday would be significant, they

say.

In an age when most hunters are limited to the weekend to pursue their sport,

the change would effectively double the value — not the price — of their

license.

Advocates say the change might also prompt hunters who have quit for lack of

time to return to the sport, it might draw more hunters from outside the state,

and it might spur interest in hunting among young people.

The corresponding increase in hunting activity, they say, would have direct and

indirect economic impacts totaling more than 8,000 jobs and $764 million in Pennsylvania.

They also say the underpinnings of the blue law are wormy with age and

irrelevance — one of the last relics of colonial nanny-state dogma.

Almost every other blue law has fallen: Pennsylvanians can shop on Sunday,

drink and gamble on Sunday, or buy a motorcycle on Sunday. But you can’t hunt

(or buy a vehicle).

The challenge is not new, but it has newfound traction this year.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs has come

out in support of dropping the ban on Sunday hunting. The state Game Commission

for the first time weighed in with a 4-3 vote in favor of the change.

State Rep. John Evans, the Republican chairman of the House

Game & Fisheries Committee, was long opposed to the idea but has changed

his mind.

“I was presented with the facts,” Evans said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s

a real shot in the arm for the Pennsylvania

economy, and when we’re coming out of a recession, these types of opportunities

need to be seized.”

“Folks who argue against it generally are believers in the blue laws established

years ago” said Evans, “but — you know — we have changed as a society.”

“If you don’t want Sunday hunting on your land,” he said, “all you have to do

is post your land ‘No Sunday Hunting.’ It’s that simple. They really want to

put their wishes out there for everybody to abide by.”

Until now, the Farm Bureau has made sure any Sunday hunting proposal was

basically dead on arrival. With more than 53,000 members across the state, the

Farm Bureau is a voice that must be minded by rural legislators.

The Sunday hunting issue is “near and dear to the hearts of our farmers, who

overwhelmingly oppose it,” said Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Farm Bureau.

But it’s also a top issue of the Sunday Hunting Coalition, and O’Neill claimed

there are “interests outside Pennsylvania

with money coming in and pushing this. They are targeting Pennsylvania.”

That’s only partially true, said Jake McGuigan, director of state affairs for

the National Shooting Sports Foundation — the NRA’s partner in the Sunday

Hunting Coalition.

“Pennsylvania is a major priority

for us this year,” he acknowledged, but the group hardly represents “outside

interests.” Every member of the Sunday Hunting Coalition has significant

membership inside Pennsylvania:

the NRA alone has some 400,000 Pennsylvanians on its rolls.

The vice chair of Evans’ committee, state Rep. Todd Rock,

isn’t on board with the proposal nor are other Republicans on the committee but

says he is taking a “wait-and-see” stance for now.

“I had six local farmers come into my office

together,” Rock said, “and they said they would post their land” if the measure

passed. “They opposed it for religious reasons and others.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Gilliland writes for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg,

Pa.)