Safari Club International filed suit on October 23rd in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond challenging Virginia’s ban on Sunday hunt. The ostensible purpose of the ban on Sunday hunting was to give wildlife “a day of rest”.
SCI is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against VA. CODE ANN. § 29.1-521(A)(1). They allege that the ban on Sunday hunting violates the Virginia Constitution’s right to hunt provision as well as its Establishment Clause. They are also alleging that the law violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. They are asking that the law be declared unconstitutional and that its enforcement be enjoined.
SCI claims that the Sunday hunting ban is a remnant of Virginia’s “blue laws” which prohibited many activities on the Christian Sabbath or Sunday. In 1936, the Virginia General Assembly added a secular justification to the Sunday hunting noting it was “to give wildlife a day of rest.”
The suit says there is no scientific basis for giving wildlife a day of rest. They note that the Board of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries passed a resolution in 2011 urging the ban to be repealed. The board resolution said, ” ‘ [w]ildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries state that there is no biological reason to continue a ban on Sunday hunting. States that have lifted the ban on Sunday hunting have seen no impact on wildlife populations.’ “
Virginia does not prohibit the hunting of bear, fox, or raccoon with dogs on Sunday, merely their taking. Likewise, trappers are allowed to trap and kill fur-bearers on Sunday. The suit notes that many outdoor pistol, rifle, and shotgun ranges adjoin areas with wildlife. The suit points out this inconsistency noting that these activities “can and do disturb animals on Sunday, both during and outside of open seasons.” In other words, by permitting this, Virginia gives lie to its claim that it is in the public interest “to give wildlife a day of rest”.
As SCI’s release (see below) points out, Virginia is one of only 11 states that ban hunting on Sunday.
On October 23, 2013, Safari Club International (SCI) filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s ban on Sunday hunting. The lawsuit argues that the ban is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia, in particular because of Virginia’s constitutional right to hunt.
“Sunday hunting bans should be a thing of the past,” said SCI President Craig Kauffman. “Hunters have to work during the week, and young hunters are in school, making weekends the primary time they can hunt. The unconstitutional ban on Sunday hunting robs hunters of half their potential time afield, and has absolutely no basis in science or conservation.”
Kauffman noted that SCI anticipates debate over proposals to repeal the ban at least in part during the upcoming Virginia 2014 legislative session, and said, “As hunters, we are hopeful that state legislators support the Virginia Constitutional right to hunt and fish and pass meaningful legislation to repeal the ban. SCI will not formally serve the Commonwealth of Virginia until state legislators have exhausted their efforts in Richmond. The filing of this lawsuit marks our promise to pursue this issue through any and all available means,” Kauffman concluded.
In addition to the constitutional claims, SCI’s suit asserts that Virginia’s purported justification for the ban – to give wildlife a “day of rest” – is not supported by sound scientific or wildlife management principles. This misunderstanding of wildlife ecology was highlighted by Virginia’s Board of Game and Inland Fisheries when it stated , “the Virginia ban on Sunday hunting serves no biological purpose and is counterproductive to matters of game management.”
In polling conducted earlier this year an overwhelming 88.6% of SCI members supported full and/or partial repeal of Virginia’s Sunday hunting ban.
Eliminating the Sunday hunting ban will provide all hunters with an additional day to hunt, will encourage Virginia hunters to stay in state to hunt on Sundays, and will give out-of-state hunters the opportunity to visit Virginia to hunt on Sundays.
Only 11 states, all on the East Coast, currently have some kind of ban or limitation on Sunday hunting. Opponents of overturning the ban make baseless predictions of dire mayhem, but the existence of Sunday hunting in the vast majority of states proves that these wild predictions have no basis in truth. SCI hopes that success in Virginia might encourage other states to eliminate their statutory bans or limitations on hunting on Sundays. Professional wildlife managers should regulate hunting based on sound science and wildlife management principles, not archaic statutes that have no conservation value.