Frye: Sunday hunting lawsuit is filed
By Bob Frye
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The battle is on.
Hunters United for Sunday Hunting and Kathy Davis of Speers filed a lawsuit in Middle District federal court in Harrisburg this past week seeking to have the state's prohibition against hunting on Sundays lifted. It claims the ban is unconstitutional under the First, Second and 14th amendments.
Attorney Peter Russo of Mechanicsburg writes in the suit that the Supreme Court has, in recent decisions, held hunting to be guaranteed by the right to bear arms. That's not been the case before, Davis said.
“That is hugely watershed,” she said.
Russo also writes the ban creates separate classes of citizens who are treated unequally. What's more, the “blue law” — designed to enforce religious standards — behind it no longer makes sense when people can gamble, buy alcohol, shop and more on Sundays, he writes.
The suit names the Pennsylvania Game Commission as the defendant, even though the agency in 2010 adopted a resolution supporting Sunday hunting.
“You can't sue a state over this. You have to sue the regulatory authority. So it's a bit of an oddball situation where we're actually suing an agency that supports our position,” admitted Brad Gehman of Lancaster County, another Hunters United board member. “It's weird.”
But the lawsuit is necessary because state lawmakers have repeatedly failed to overturn the ban on their own, said Josh First of Harrisburg, a board member for Hunters United.
“The legislature is paralyzed on this issue. So we have no other way to achieve our goal,” he said. “We're stuck.”
Lawmakers have held hearings on and debated various bills that would have either allowed Sunday hunting for specific species or given the Game Commission authority to decide whether to include Sundays in seasons. None went anywhere.
Neither Gary Haluska nor Marc Gergely, Democratic members of the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee from Cambria and Allegheny counties, respectively, could be reached to say why that is.
The Game Commission won't act as legislative guidance, though.
“It is our position that we lack the authority to lift the prohibition,” spokesman Travis Lau said, noting it was lawmakers who legalized the hunting of crows, foxes and coyotes on Sundays previously.
First doesn't disagree. But if the courts say the commission can roll Sundays into hunting seasons, the legislature likely will get involved and come up with guidelines, he said.
Families will be the main beneficiaries, Gehman said.
“Hunting is a family-building recreation,” Gehman said. “That's why we're doing this. We want to let kids get out and hunt when it fits their schedules. That's what this is all about.”
Ten other states ban Sunday hunting, but those rules are being contested, too. Safari Club International is looking into challenging the ban in Virginia.
All those laws ultimately will fall, First predicted, and that will help secure hunting's future.
“This is about having enough people who hunt, shoot and trap in the future so that we have a political presence,” he said.
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.
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