Hunting and fishing.
Earlier this year, the Senate voted 31–0 to approve an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would guarantee that “the citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law.’’ The House followed suit, voting 90–1, with two abstentions.
Those votes and the governor’s signature placed the proposed amendment on the statewide ballot for Nov. 2, where Tennessee voters must approve it for it to move forward in a lengthy process of amending the constitution.
Still, if you wonder why such an amendment would be needed in a state crawling with outdoorsmen, you are not alone. As a recent Tennessean report noted, even other hunters wonder about it.
Backers of the amendment say it is needed to prevent animal-rights activists from getting measures through the legislature that would curtail the rights of hunters and anglers — but you’ve seen how the legislature votes on this issue.
The amendment’s authors seem to have their eye on organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), known for its attention-grabbing methods and fact-stretching arguments. But the group has no organized affiliate in Tennessee, and their stunts — such as PETA’s recent letter to the chancellor of UT-Chattanooga demanding he eliminate the school fishing team — are unlikely to gain any traction.
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation also cited a recent vote in the Michigan legislature banning hunting of the mourning dove. But hunting of that particular fowl had only been allowed for two years previously. There is no analogous case in Tennessee. In fact, officials here are looking to add species, such as sandhill cranes, that may be hunted.
The many organizations and prominent individuals who have spoken in support of this proposed amendment genuinely care about the “honored traditions’’ of hunting and fishing in this state, as the resolution terms it. But they should be careful of unintended consequences of going too far.
By enshrining hunting and fishing as a “personal right,’’ the amendment could make state wildlife regulations vulnerable to legal challenges — the phrase “subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law’’ notwithstanding. The word “reasonable’’ is the problem, as it is vague and open to interpretation.
If a plaintiff is able to argue that no personal right should be subject to, for example, fees charged for a Tennessee hunting or fishing license, the state suddenly has lost a crucial revenue source. Those fees pay for officials who monitor wildlife habitats and help prevent over-hunting or over-fishing. Certainly, no responsible hunter or fisherman would want that.
Lastly, a simple resolution of the House and Senate would have sufficed to send the message that hunting and fishing is here to stay. Making this a matter of such urgency as to amend the Tennessee Constitution, which typically concerns itself with freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial and so on, tends to cheapen that foundational document."