The legislative session didn't go particularly well for gun zealots. They didn't close the concealed weapon permits or open churches to guns or pass an “open carry” law. But they did get a big item on the National Rifle Association wish list — a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing a “right to hunt.”
The amendment nominally protects fishing and trapping, too. But it is really just a continuation of the national gun manufacturers' agenda to strip the law of gun regulation. They believe — two centuries of court rulings to the contrary — that the Second Amendment allows no regulation of gun use. By extension, any limitation of hunting privileges is a limitation of gun use.
Hunting is not under attack in Arkansas. But the pressure of the gun lobby for a symbolic scalp finally became too intense for the state Game and Fish Commission to withstand. It agreed not to oppose the amendment though voices within the agency argued that the amendment could lead to a decrease in the commission's authority.
Proponents told horror stories — such as Michigan's recent ban on dove hunting. The story is a little more complicated. Michigan protected mourning doves as songbirds a century ago. The NRA didn't like it. The birds don't provide much meat, but they're apparently great sport to shoot — “live skeet,” they've been described.
The NRA won a narrow legislative victory in 2004 to legalize mourning dove hunts. In Michigan, as in Arkansas, the voters aren't so easily spooked by special interests as legislators. A referendum backed by almost 70 percent of Michigan voters reinstated the ban in 2006.
The NRA hates such democracy. Thus the amendment to make hunting regulation changes very difficult.
It's a mistake. Inevitably, somebody will challenge a mere state agency's ability to rein in their “traditional” hunting and fishing. Why shouldn't people be able to spotlight deer or dynamite fish like their great-granddaddies did?
This amendment isn't about hunting. It's about politics. Sen. Steve Faris, now a Senate leader, has been pushing it for the NRA for years. Faris is no huntsman, but he was a staff member of Secretary of State Bill McCuen when he upset U.S. Rep. Beryl Anthony in a primary race for Congress. The NRA threw all its muscle behind McCuen. Anthony, in supporting restrictions on armor-piercing ammunition, violated Gun Nut Commandment 1: Thou shall make no law limiting weaponry, even in pursuit of criminals or protection of police.
Since McCuen's win, the Fourth District (Faris' home) has been a contest for who wields the biggest blunderbuss. Current Rep. Mike Ross happily appeared on the cover of this paper with a shotgun, just to give you some idea. Faris has told people he'd like to run for Ross' sea in 2014, when Ross will make his long-planned run for governor.
And that governor's race? Ross will be packing heat, of course. So, too, will Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who couldn't wait to tell the Democrat-Gazette last week how much he loves the NRA's amendment. What a contrast with real leadership. Gov. Mike Beebe said quietly (and correctly) that the NRA amendment was unnecessary. Better still is the memory of Gov. Bill Clinton. He wouldn't kowtow to the NRA. He wasn't anti-hunting (regular photo ops emphasized the point), but he knew the public believes in sensible gun and hunting regulations. It's a marked contrast to the politicians — and the bullies before whom they cower — who believe courage can only be purchased at a gun shop.