Amendment 1, referred to the people by the legislature, would establish a constitutional right for Arkansans to hunt and fish. Sen. Steve Faris of Malvern, the lead sponsor of Amendment 1 (there are 42 others), said, "We need to assure that protections that previous generations have had are there for future generations. Nothing is a given anymore."
Faris said that animal-rights groups had succeeded in banning some types of hunting in some states. He mentioned the success of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in ending dove hunting in Michigan, but it was the HSUS, not PETA, that was involved there. A PETA spokeswoman said her group had done nothing to stop hunting in Michigan or anywhere else. "We don't lobby," she said. "We encourage our members to oppose or support things." PETA is not planning an anti-Amendment 1 campaign in Arkansas, she said, although "We think these kinds of amendments are silly. Why not a constitutional amendment to shop, or play golf?"
Although protection of hunting and fishing sounds like a no-brainer for the Arkansas legislature, it took three legislative sessions to get the measure on the ballot. In previous sessions, there were concerns that the amendment might weaken the state Game and Fish Commission, which has constitutional authority to regulate hunting and fishing, or that it might endanger property rights. This time, Faris said, "We worked with the Game and Fish Commission, and the NRA [National Rifle Association]. We have a document that doesn't violate property laws and strengthens the role of the Commission."
Scott Henderson, director of the Game and Fish Commission, sent a letter to the House of Representatives saying the commission fully supported the proposed amendment. A Q&A memo distributed by Faris explained the need for the amendment in Arkansas:
"Anti-hunting organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States have an annual budget of over $120 million. Their declared objective is to end all consumptive sporting practices. Through the initiative process, they have succeeded in enacting hunting bans in states considered to be sportsmen strongholds. For instance, three years ago in Michigan, a state with a million hunters, HSUS banned the hunting of doves, the most commonly hunted game birds in America. It's only a matter of time before these anti-hunting activists, using the state's initiative process, set their sights on the sportsmen of Arkansas."
Both sides of the issue know that the number of hunters in the population is decreasing.
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin have established a constitutional right to hunt and fish. California and Rhode Island have established a constitutional right to fish, but not to hunt.