By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
May 1, 2015
RALEIGH – Tuesday evening, lawmakers in the North Carolina House approved HB 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act by an overwhelming margin of 83-35 votes.
Among a number of other provisions related to hunting activities, the bill most notably repeals the 145 year-old ban on hunting with a firearm on Sunday.
HB 640 prohibits hunting all migratory birds on Sunday or the use of a firearm to kill deer that are run or chased by dogs. However, it does allow hunting with a firearm seven days a week on private property with written permission. Hunters must also be at least 500 yards from a church or residence not owned by the landowner. Sunday hunting would not be allowed in counties with a population density of 700,000 or more – a provision that only covers Wake and Mecklenburg counties.
Other specifications of the bill allow counties to have the authority to prohibit Sunday hunting by ordinance, but only after having been forced by the state to allow it for a period of up to two years. The first opportunity counties would have to opt-out by ordinance would be after October 1, 2017.
During debate on the House floor, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, (R-Duplin) said the time had come for North Carolina to join 39 other states and end its centuries-old prohibition on Sunday hunting.
Rep. Marvin Lucas, (D-Cumberland), a co-sponsor of the measure, argued that the legislation was a “common sense bill.” He noted the long-standing objections to hunting on Sundays were unwarranted since many other activities such as festivals, races, golf and fishing tournaments, as well as numerous sports events were already allowed. Lucas said, “We have recreational activities on Sundays that we readily condone. I don’t know why hunting is any different.”
But other lawmakers such as Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) were not convinced and opposed the bill. Steinburg said he might be perceived as someone like “Ward Cleaver” from the “Leave it to Beaver” television series of several decades ago, but he still didn’t believe it was right to approve Sunday hunting, especially when everything he was hearing from his constituents was that they didn’t want the ban lifted. Steinburg said he had heard from all six counties in his district and none of them wanted it. He argued the counties didn’t want it, the Sheriff’s didn’t want it, and the pastors of the churches didn’t want it. He added the counties didn’t need two years to test whether they wanted Sunday hunting, they already knew and were staunchly against it.
Rep. Bill Brisson, (D-Bladen) was most direct in his opposition; peppering Dixon with so many difficult questions Dixon finally decided not to yield to answering any further inquiries from Brisson.
The contentious debate between Brisson and Dixon started after Brisson took exception to Dixon comment that the bill added more regulations so that people could feel as safe on their property during a weekday as they would on a Sunday. Brisson, however, said the Wildlife Resources officers were understaffed and unable to enforce the new regulations.
Furthermore, referencing the bill’s title, Brisson said the bill was a departure from the state’s Christian heritage, “I’ll tell you one heritage that we have in this state, it’s our Christian heritage,” he said, “No matter what denomination you are, I’ll tell you, this state is known as a Christian state.”
Brisson also argued that since the new Sunday hunting statute would largely impact rural areas, the measure should have been considered by the Agriculture Committee. Running it through the Agriculture Committee, he said, would have provided people in those sections of the state a better opportunity to know about the proposal and give public input – something Brisson said they weren’t afforded. (The measure was considered by the Wildlife and Rules committees.)
Four attempts were made to amend the bill. The first amendment, offered by Rep. Paul Tine (U-Beaufort) would have allowed any county to adopt an ordinance to prohibit Sunday hunting without the required two year trial period. Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Craven) rightly contended that without passage of the amendment the bill would be inherently unfair. The amendment failed by a mere 7 votes, 63-56.
The second amendment was offered by House Minority Leader, Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham). Hall’s amendment would have changed the Sunday hunting exemption from counties of 700,000 or more to between 280,000 people and 700,000 people, providing for some of the other densely populated counties to also be exempted. The amendment failed, 76-43.
The third amendment was offered by Rep. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham). Jones’ amendment would have required hunters to be at least one half mile from a place of worship and 500 yards from a residence when hunting their prey. Jones’ amendment failed, 64-55.
Not to be deterred, Jones offered the fourth amendment to change the required distance Sunday hunters must be from a residence from its original specifications of 300 yards to 500 yards. The fourth and final amendment passed, 82-37.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said he was saddened by lawmakers’ decision to support the bill. “Granted, we already do numerous other things on Sunday and allowing Sunday hunting can seem rather innocuous to many,” he said. “Nevertheless, if we continue to be so dismissive of sacred institutions such as the “Lord’s Day,” approving legislation that further chips away at its positive influences on our culture, then we are just working against ourselves on the bigger picture.”
HB 640 now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Read Dr. Creech’s editorial: Sunday Hunting: Weakening the Value of the ‘Lord’s Day.’