Vermont did it way back in 1777. Many of the more than 800,000 outdoor sportsmen in Indiana hope the same thing happens here on Nov. 8, some 239 years later.
That is, preserve hunting and fishing as a basic right guaranteed by law.
The question is on election ballots across the state and, if a majority say yes, the right to hunt and fish will become on the same level as freedom of speech or religion.
Proponents say the amendment is needed because animal rights groups like PETA continue an effort to turn the country into a vegetarian land. Opponents scoff at that notion and say the amendment is quite literally overkill, that the right to hunt and fish is not being threatened at all.
Here’s how the question is being worded on the ballot:
“Shall the Constitution of the State of Indiana be amended by adding a Section 39 to Article 1 to provide that the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife shall be forever preserved for the public good, 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.”
There are numerous pros and cons on the issue.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, sportsmen in many states increasingly feel as if they are the ones outside the duck blind, and they are turning to state constitutions to ensure their hallowed pastime will continue in perpetuity. Increasing urbanization, decreased habitat, declining numbers of sportsmen, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the quest to assert the right to hunt and fish in a state's most basic and difficult-to-amend document. On land that has been traditionally open to sportsmen, development of farmland and forests, along with pressure from other recreational groups such as hikers and off-road vehicles, is putting the pinch on the available land for harvesting game and fish.
The NCSL goes on to say well-organized animal rights groups and limitations on methods, seasons and bag limits for certain game species have provoked many hunter advocacy groups to lobby for hunting and fishing as a right, and their call is being heard in statehouses across the country. Twenty-two states, including 12 in 2008 alone, have introduced legislation or ballot measures on this issue, with Oklahoma and Tennessee's measures passing in 2008 and Oklahoma's headed to the ballot in November (it later passed).
The NCSL quotes Senator Glen Coffee, sponsor of the Oklahoma resolution, as saying that hunting and fishing have "Historically been unfettered rights," and "Oklahoma was formed by populist people and our constitution is very long already, so I think people do think it is the appropriate place to address this." Senator Coffee feels good about the referendum's chance of success in November.
Opponents state that these provisions clutter a constitution and overstate the threat to these activities, while possibly limiting or increasing the amount and severity of restrictions that can be placed on sportsmen activities. The Humane Society states, "The constitution should guarantee fundamental democratic rights, not provide protection for a recreational pastime."
Some states, such as Florida, have inserted the right to hunt and fish into state statutes, but have not taken the more drastic step of embedding it in the state constitution. The road to changing the constitution often goes through legislatures, with legislators typically introducing resolutions to ask the voters to approve changes.
A website called “Wild Indiana” contends that “in light of the largely ineffective history of challenges to hunting or fishing, opponents of Public Question 1 have single argument that sticks: this legislation is a solution in search of a problem. There is no real crisis this amendment would solve, either today or ten years from now.”
The last time Indiana voters approved an addition to the state constitution was just six years ago, when Hoosiers overwhelmingly supported the property tax caps amendment.