The question as to whether hunting and fishing are rights or privileges has come up again.
The West Virginia Legislature is considering House Joint Resolution 113, which would allow Mountain State voters to decide if they want to amend the state Constitution to include a right to hunt and fish.
Let me say up front, I have precious little doubt voters would approve the amendment if given the chance. Voters in 22 other states already have.
Getting those amendments passed made voters in those states feel good about themselves, I suppose.
“By golly, no one’s going to take away our hunting and fishing now that it’s been written into our state constitution!” they no doubt proclaimed.
But did those people vote themselves a true right to hunt and fish, or merely the assurance that those privileges won’t someday be taken away?
Yes, I said privileges, not rights.
As practiced throughout the nation, hunting and fishing are really just privileges. Want proof? Try to hunt or fish without a license. Chances are you’ll end up paying a fine.
Rights are things people inherently have, such as the right to worship freely, the right to engage in free speech, the right to own firearms.
“Wait a minute!” I hear you cry. “The U.S. Constitution gives us those rights; they aren’t ours to begin with!”
Yes, they are. The U.S. Constitution does not grant us those rights. The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, guarantee that the government can’t take those and other rights away.
Privileges, on the other hand, are activities people earn or pay for.
Driving a car, for instance, is a privilege, not a right, made available to citizens who demonstrate they possess the knowledge and ability to operate a vehicle. There is no such thing as a “right to drive,” nor should there be.
Hunting and fishing fall along the same line. Citizens pay for the government’s permission to engage in those activities. What’s more, people who purchase hunting licenses must demonstrate they have the knowledge and firearm-safety skills necessary to do so.
I believe the people who push for right-to-hunt-and-fish amendments harbor a fear that, someday, the lawmakers they elect might fall under the influence of animal-rights activists to the point they pass laws that do away with hunting and fishing.
While that is theoretically possible, chances are it will never happen. And even if it does happen in some nutty state (California comes immediately to mind), pigs will quite literally fly before West Virginia follows suit.
So, do we need a constitutional “right” to hunt and fish? In my opinion, not really.
Do we want such a right? That remains to be seen. First, the resolution has to be voted through the Legislature by a two-thirds majority in each house, and then Gov. Jim Justice has to sign it. After that, a majority of the state’s voters have to ratify it.
If it makes it through the entire amendment process, West Virginia’s hunters and anglers will have a shiny new bauble that might make them feel a bit better.
In reality, however, not much will have changed.