Today, Hunters United for Sunday Hunting formally announced its long-anticipated lawsuit to compel Pennsylvania to end one of its last unconstitutional "blue laws," the general prohibition against hunting on Sunday. Forty-two other states allow Sunday hunting of big and small game.
"We are taking the last route available to hunters, the courts. Not because hunters enjoy litigation, but because they have exhausted their legislative and executive-branch possibilities over the past 15 years," said Kathy Davis, founding president of HUSH. "All of us involved in the legal challenge strongly support the Pennsylvania Game Commission and its future success; PGC's role in this suit is a simple, unfortunate formality."
Sunday hunting has been a persistent political issue for the past 15 years, with hearings held in the Pennsylvania legislature, and legislation unsuccessfully submitted to expand hunting to Sunday. Success has been elusive as a couple special interest groups have opposed it on religious and other grounds. Proponents have long advocated that it is a simple matter of individual liberty and freedom.
"Hunting is a wholesome, safe, family-building Pennsylvania tradition that is losing ground to video games, loss of private hunting land, and limited recreational time,” Davis said. “Sunday is 50 percent of the recreation time available to most Pennsylvania hunters, so allowing Sunday hunting dramatically increases the likelihood of recruiting more hunters and conservationists than we are losing through attrition."
Those opposed to Sunday hunting cite religion, fear of land being posted, and safety as factors that influence their opposition.
"I am talking to God on the side of a mountain or out in the woods hunting and fishing as much as when I am in a house of worship," said Josh First, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "I am a person of strong religious faith and observance, a political activist who advocates for including Biblical values in public policy, and I see absolutely no conflict between Sunday hunting and religion, in fact, they are mutually supportive,"
First is a life-long hunter, trapper and fisherman from Central Pennsylvania who enjoys Sunday hunting in New York. He said he would like the opportunity to stay in his own state to hunt on Sundays.
"Hunting culture and hunters are the kind of people that people of faith naturally support,” he said. “If you want more traditional values, then support hunting generally, and specifically Sunday hunting; it's the biggest hunter recruitment tool available."
Hunter recruitment dropped steadily since the 1980s, due to a number of factors, although it is now up slightly over the past few years as Pennsylvania has implemented new youth hunter programs. Limited time and opportunities to hunt are the biggest impacts on hunter retention and recruitment.
Proponents of Sunday hunting ask why they are allowed to target shoot all day on both private land and public land on Sundays, but are not allowed to hunt that day. Especially when they pay taxes on their own land, but are deprived the full use of their land on Sunday. For many, Sunday hunting is about private property rights being respected.
"Presently, you can shoot a thousand bullets at a target on Sunday, but you can't shoot one shell at a grouse or one bullet at a groundhog on Sunday," Davis said. "It doesn't add up or make sense, it is inconsistent law."
Others point out that hunting is a positive use of firearms and should be expanded.
"Hunting is one of the safest activities a person can participate in, and it's even safer among non-hunters,” First said. “Not one person was killed in a hunting related shooting incident in the 2011-2012 season."
Full or expanded Sunday hunting is allowed in 42 other states, including New York, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia.
"We believe the legal basis of our complaint is simple and straightforward: Hunting is core to the Second Amendment, all Pennsylvanians are entitled to equal protection under the law, and the present ban on Sunday hunting is an unconstitutional blue law," said Peter Russo, the attorney representing HUSH.
HUSH is on Facebook and on the web at www.huntsunday.com. HUSH's mailing address is PO Box 255, Lititz, PA 17543. Donations are welcome.