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Mitchell: Hunting and Fishing to Become Fundamental Right

Robin Hood would be proud.
The nonconformist of Nottingham — who 800 years ago attracted the attention of the shire reeve (or sheriff) for harvesting royal deer (among other trespasses) — would smile upon Mississippians who stand ready, all these years later, to vote on making hunting and fishing a fundamental right of the people.
There will be other matters on the Mississippi’s Nov. 4 ballot.
Topping them will be the contest for one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. Having survived one of the more bizarre primaries in state history, Thad Cochran, the Republican nominee, will face former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, the Democrats’ nominee.
The general election Senate campaign has been exponentially quieter than the primaries, mostly because the national Democratic Party allocated its cash elsewhere. It’s simply impossible to be a viable candidate these days without major infusions of cash, so Cochran, barring the unforeseen, will be returned to Washington to start another six-year term.
Mississippi’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are also on the ballot, just as they are every 24 months. But as much as folks may complain about Congress as a whole, the systemic fix is in. Three Republicans — Alan Nunnelee, Gregg Harper and Steven Palazzo in districts 1, 3 and 4 respectively — and one Democrat — Bennie G. Thompson of District 2 — will win new terms without much heavy lifting.
Money is, again, a big part of the reason. Incumbents have it and challengers rarely do. Also, today’s extremely early qualifying deadlines are off-putting to people who can’t stop their lives and campaign for a year. But a third factor — perhaps the most constricting — is that district lines are drawn to mirror ideological groups. There’s not even a Republican candidate in District 2. It “belongs” to the Democratic Party just as the other three, at least for the time being, “belong” to the Republican Party.
Back to hunting and fishing.
Thanks to state Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, the resolution for which he was lead legislative sponsor will be put to the people for a thumbs up.
It reads: “This proposed constitutional amendment establishes hunting, fishing, and the harvesting of wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, as a constitutional right subject only to such regulations and restrictions that promote wildlife conservation and management as the Legislature may prescribe by general law.”
Given the South’s affinity for woods and wildlife, one might think this proposal is strictly regional. It is not. Mississippi is actually a bit late getting in on the, er, game.
The Associated Press reports Vermont has had a right to hunt and fish in its constitution since 1777 and that 16 other states, mostly in mid-America, have added provisions since 1996.
While the proposal isn’t sudden or regional, it is reactionary — at least in part.
There has been scuttlebutt that forces fighting animal cruelty, generally, were starting to add trapping and other methods of capturing and killing wild animals to their ongoing campaigns against beating, starving or simply neglecting domestic animals.
This was enough to get hunting groups, er, up in arms.
And it’s certainly true that just as legions of farmers are the planet’s best conservationists, legions of hunters respect wildlife tremendously and work to preserve habitat and promote animal health. Non-hunters don’t believe it, but other than meeting a somewhat violent end, deer lucky enough to live on a hunting camp’s land are healthier and better fed — leading happier lives — than deer who have to rough it.
Anyway, the proposed amendment to the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, has no organized or vocal opposition. Its point is simply to stake a claim on higher legal ground. Where any state legislature could up and pass a statute in any yearly session making harvesting wild animals totally illegal, that couldn’t happen if a state’s constitution ensconced hunting and fishing as fundamental rights. Amendments can be repealed, but the process is arduous and lengthy.
If the amendment passes in Mississippi (and it will), the Legislature will still have the power to set seasons, control limits and enact all the game laws it wants to enact. It could even outlaw trapping. But no total bans. Not now, not ever.
Too bad Robin Hood is not around.
He’d be happy to see a bit more power guaranteed to the people.
Charlie Mitchell mugshot 2013Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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