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Mississippi Adds, Alabama Strengthens the Constitutional Right to Hunt

With backing by the NRA, making hunting a constitutionally protected right has become increasingly popular in the past decade.

The first state to add a right to hunt to its constitution was Vermont in 1777.
Voters in Mississippi overwhelmingly favored adding a right to hunt and fish to the state’s constitution, while Alabama voters approved a measure strengthening their existing amendment. 

Mississippi became the 18th state with a constitutional right to hunt and fish, capturing about 87 percent of the vote. Alabama voters blessed a stronger right to hunt with about 80 percent of the vote.

Such amendments have become increasingly popular in the last decade, helped along by the National Rifle Association, which makes yearly pushes it considers winnable. The group’s objective is to preempt future regulation against hunting and also establish it as the “preferred” means of wildlife population control, as opposed to special forms of contraception and other methods of thinning out herds.  

Alabama’s amendment didn’t previously include language making hunting the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” Mississippi’s does from the outset.

Both amendments would be subject to “reasonable regulations” that promote wildlife conservation, but animal welfare groups worry that they’ll make it far more difficult to regulate future practices that are found inhumane. Gun advocates view their opposition as a poorly veiled desire to ultimately displace hunting as a major population control policy, and in fact groups like the Humane Society support research into vaccines for animals that act as contraceptives. 

Some of the more highly publicized initiatives from animal welfare groups in recent years include efforts to ban dove hunting, campaigns to prohibit lead bullets, challenges to bear hunting and initiatives to ban certain forms of trapping. The fear among animal welfare groups is that “right to hunt” amendments jeopardize those efforts by leaving them vulnerable to legal challenges.

Establishing a right to hunt is an old idea. Vermont first did it in 1777, but the wording didn’t go as far as Alabama, Mississippi, or other recent additions, which have mostly come over the past 14 years in the South and West, but some Midwestern states have also passed such amendments. Other states, such as New Hampshire and Florida, have statutory protections but not constitutional ones. 

The only recent loss at the ballot box for the NRA came in Arizona in 2010. Since then bills have appeared in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But they haven’t passed and in fact haven’t advanced out of committees in most cases, which underscores that winning outside the South and more gun-friendly western states will be challenging. 

The group maintains a 90-percent winning percentage and says it isn’t involved in every bill that appears in a statehouse. The group plans to continue pushing for bills to launch constitutional amendments or do so through the initiative process, said Lacey Biles, the NRA’s deputy director of state and local affairs.

Chris covers health care for GOVERNING. An Ohio native with an interest in education, he set out for New Orleans with Teach For America after finishing a degree at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He later covered government and politics at the Savannah Morning News and its South Carolina paper. He most recently covered North Carolina’s 2013 legislative session for the Associated Press.
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