John McCoy: Momentum gathers for statewide Sunday hunting in WV

The winds of change have blown for some time now. By March 12, if they blow full circle, all of West Virginia’s hunters will have the chance to hunt on Sundays.

A bill, HB 4170, has been working its way through the Legislature since Jan. 20. If it passes and is signed by the governor, it will legalize Sunday hunting in all 55 counties.

Right now it’s legal in 21 counties, but not everywhere. That’s because a Sunday hunting bill that passed in 2001 contained a poison pill — a provision that allowed the voters of individual counties to outlaw hunting on Sundays with a simple ballot measure.

In 2002, voters in 41 counties did that. From then until 2014, Sunday hunting remained legal in only 14 counties, most of them in the Northern Panhandle and the southwestern part of the state.

Three years ago, a grassroots movement sprang up to reestablish Sunday hunting throughout the state. A small but dedicated group of activists circulated petitions to put the issue in front of voters once again.

The activists had momentum on their sides. By then, a nationwide pro-Sunday hunting movement had sprung up. Sunday hunting advocates had become well-organized.

Armed with statistics that supported their cause, they chipped away at any resistance and gradually turned public opinion in their favor. Today at least some form of Sunday hunting is legal in 45 states.

Intent on increasing the pastime’s footprint in West Virginia, activists took a clever approach. They identified counties where voters seemed most likely to reestablish Sunday hunting and launched petition drives in those counties to put a measure on the ballot.

During the 2014 primary and general elections, they secured votes in nine counties. Voters reinstated Sunday hunting in seven of them.

What happened to change voters’ minds? Probably a combination of things.

Today’s crummy economy almost certainly factors into the equation. People are working longer, harder hours. Lots of folks have two jobs. Sometimes Sunday is the only day they have off, and they’d like to spend it hunting.

And speaking of the economy, a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation determined that statewide Sunday hunting would cause hunters to spend an additional $73 million a year on equipment, licenses, leases, lodging, food and other “direct expenditures.”

Gee, do you think Mountain State businesses could use another $73 million?

I think, too, that people have come to realize that West Virginia’s long-standing prohibition on Sunday hunting had its origins in the state’s old-fashioned blue laws, which for most part were designed to keep the Sabbath holy.

Those laws have gradually been done away with. It is now legal, for example, for a merchant to keep his business open on Sunday. It’s also legal to buy booze on Sunday. What’s the harm, then, in being allowed to go hunting on Sunday?

Finally, people have changed their minds about Sunday hunting because they realize just how bogus the so-called “safety-related arguments” against it were.

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve heard the line: “I just want to go to Sunday school without the fear of being hit by a hunter’s stray bullet.” That argument draws a chuckle from Cory Boothe, one of the organizers of West Virginia’s pro-Sunday hunting movement.

“In the counties where Sunday hunting has been legal since 2002, there hasn’t been a single incident like that,” Boothe said. “Hunting is actually one of the safest pastimes.”

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bear him out. People are 11 times more likely to likely to get hurt while playing volleyball, 19 times more likely to get hurt while snowboarding, and 25 times more likely to get hurt while cheerleading (!) than they are while hunting.

The old arguments against Sunday hunting are just that — old. The winds of change are blowing stronger than ever.

It’s time for West Virginia to go with the trend and legalize Sunday hunting statewide.

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