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The Right to Hunt Is Now Constitutionally Protected in North Carolina

The state is the latest where voters have weighed in on the debate.

Hunter carrying a rifle and the bird he killed.
(TNS/Dennis Anderson)
For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

North Carolina voters on Tuesday approved an amendment to codify the right to hunt and fish in the state’s constitution.

This type of amendment is not new, though it has rapidly gained steam in the last two decades. More than 20 states have cemented a constitutional right to hunt and fish -- most through the ballot box. 

The effort was backed by outdoor sporting groups and the National Rifle Association (NRA) but faced concerns from animal rights groups.

Approved by 57 percent of the vote, this change will limit the state's ability to regulate hunting and establish hunting as the "preferred" means of managing wildlife.

Some opponents view this policy through the lens of gun rights. After all, the NRA testified in support of the amendment in June. But supporters say it's about protecting a rural pastime that in some cases becomes a necessary source of food.

The hunting community believes hunting is in danger "as there is more and more awareness of animal welfare in society," said Stacey Gordon, a law professor with the University of Montana who has written about hunting amendments.

For instance, a federal judge recently blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to remove protections for grizzly bears. The court decision prevented hunts that were set to take place in Idaho and Wyoming. In New Jersey, hunting groups are suing the state after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy banned bear hunting on state lands.

"Throughout the country, organizations lobby every day to restrict or even prohibit hunting and fishing," said Republican state Sen. Tom McInnis, a cosponsor of North Carolina’s right-to-hunt amendment. This measure, he said, is "about protecting the rights of our children and grandchildren to hunt and fish in North Carolina."

The NRA, which would neither confirm nor deny any financial involvement in the right-to-hunt campaign, echoed that sentiment.

"This is an important piece of legislation designed to safeguard North Carolina’s hunting heritage," said NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide. 

But opponents of the amendment, like Democratic North Carolina state Sen. Floyd McKissick, say it is unnecessary and will "clutter" the constitution. He also believes Republicans used fear over hunting to drive the GOP base to the polls.

"You can’t divorce this issue from the other five constitutional amendments [on the November ballot]," said McKissick, pointing to two measures defeated by voters Tuesday that would have transferred power from the Democratic governor’s office to the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

For some animal rights activists, their issue with hunting amendments is the broad language, said Jill Fritz, director of Wildlife Protection for the Humane Society of the United States. Groups like hers oppose what they view as "inhumane" methods, such as "body-gripping" traps, bear baiting and the use of hunting dogs. As it stands, the added section to North Carolina’s constitution will protect the “the right to use traditional methods” of hunting, fishing and wildlife harvest but does not specify what those methods include.

Earlier this year, Democratic state Rep. Pricey Harrison unsuccessfully proposed a change to the amendment that would have restricted Sunday hunting and banned the use of steel jaw traps and poison. 

In a 2017 survey, 87 percent of U.S. respondents said that it is acceptable to hunt for food; only 37 percent approve of trophy hunting. Fritz said it is this evolving view that right-to-hunt laws need to reflect.

Ultimately, Harrison said, "the devil will be in the details."

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

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