sighting in a rifle

A hunter sights in a rifle at Penn Dutch Sportsman Club outside New Holland.

The fight to expand Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania is getting nasty.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists in a release posted on its website May 21 is accusing the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau of not only blocking legislation that would expand Sunday hunting opportunities here, but also of attacking the “Second Amendment rights” of all Pennsylvania residents.

The federation’s release, entitled “PFSC Condemns PA Farm Bureau Attacks on PA’s Hunters and 2A Rights,” states that “the PA Farm Bureau has repeatedly stated their desire to have ‘gunfire free Sundays.’ This is, without any doubt, an attack on our Second Amendment rights.”

Harold Daub, the federation’s executive director, said ‘gunfire free Sundays’ to him means no shooting of firearms for any reason on Sundays.

Mark O’Neill, the Media and Strategic Communications Director for the Farm Bureau, admitted his organization opposes the current proposed expansion of Sunday hunting opportunities in the state, but he objected to the accusation that the bureau has set its sights on banning recreational gun shooting on Sundays.

“Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has never advocated for the banning of shooting guns on Sunday,” he said.

“In addition, we have no policy calling for any restrictions on the legal operation of shooting clubs on Sundays. Our policy calls for no expansion of existing Sunday hunting laws, but it does not attempt to overturn existing hunting seasons for crows, coyotes and foxes, which you can hunt on Sundays.”

HISTORY

Currently, Pennsylvania state law prohibits all hunting on Sundays, except for the hunting of crows, coyotes and foxes.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission, which regulates hunting in the state, does not have the authority to expand Sunday hunting beyond those species because it is a state law that prohibits it.

For more than a decade, some sportsmen’s groups have sought to change the law either to make Sunday like every other day of the week when it comes to hunting, or to give the Game Commission regulatory control over Sunday hunting.

Either move would open the door to hunters being allowed to hunt both weekend days for more popular species, such as deer, turkeys and bears.

All such attempts have failed as no bill that would expand Sunday hunting has ever even been brought up for a vote within the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 147 made history in March when it was moved out of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee by a vote of 8-3, and sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill, which was drafted by Senator Dan Laughlin of Erie, seeks to grant control of Sunday hunting to the Game Commission and to stiffen the state’s trespass laws.

It is the first piece of legislation involving the expansion of Sunday hunting to move even that far in Pennsylvania’s lawmaking process.

But the bill is now stalled within the Appropriations Committee, which would have to approve it for it to continue its journey toward passage.

‘CONTENTIOUS ISSUE’

The debate over expanding Sunday hunting has solid camps on both sides of the issue.

There are hunters – many of whom are farmers - who favor it because they want to be able to hunt more popular species on both days of the weekend, rather than just one. They also say it could help stop the steady decline in hunter numbers that has occurred in Pennsylvania and the rest of the nation for the past 30 years.

And there are hunters, farmers, hikers, bikers and others who oppose it because they like having one day of the week when they don’t have to worry about throngs of hunters being in the woods, or they believe the game deserves a day of rest. Some people also oppose Sunday hunting for religious reasons.

The state Farm Bureau is opposed to S.B. 147. The bureau preferred a compromise proposal which would have limited the number of Sundays that could be open to hunting the more popular game species.

Don Ranck is a Paradise Township farmer who is vice president of the Lancaster County Farm Bureau. He said he recognizes the push to expand Sunday hunting is “a contentious issue,” but he said his group opposes it.

At the county bureau’s annual banquet last year, Ranck said those in attendance voted against expanding Sunday hunting, “by something like 70-30. So it was a pretty good majority against it, but there were more than a few who want it.”

Asked if he thinks the state Farm Bureau is attacking the Second Amendment in Pennsylvania, Ranck laughed.

“I think that’s extreme to say that,” he said.

ATTACK ACCUSATION

In accusing the Farm Bureau of attacking Second Amendment rights of all Pennsylvanians, the PFSC web release quotes O’Neill from a February television program on PCN, when O’Neill said, “When you are shooting a gun, the noise doesn’t stop at the property line; the bullets don’t stop at the property lines.”

According to O’Neill, that is one sentence he spoke during an hour-long show, and it was part of a discussion about a specific hunting scenario – not recreational shooting.

“The quote had absolutely nothing to do with Second Amendment rights,” he said.

Daub also referred a reporter to an online document entitled “Q&A on Expansion of Sunday Hunting” published by the Farm Bureau.

That paper contains two statements about opposition to the sound of gunshots.

The first comes in response to the question, “Why do farmers across Pennsylvania oppose lifting the ban on limited Sunday hunting?”

The full response is: “Farmers want a day of peace and quiet. Most farmers work every day of the week, but try to spend extra time with their families on Sundays.

“It’s about the only day they get to use their own land for recreational purposes. They don’t want gunshots ringing across their property or hunters knocking on their doors asking for permission to hunt on their land on Sundays. (Note: Pennsylvania offers limited hunting seasons that include Sundays for coyotes, crows and foxes.)”

There is a reference to “gunfire free Sundays” in the paper, but it actually is attributed to nonhunters who recreate outdoors – not farmers.

In response to the question, “Are farmers the only people opposing this legislation?” the paper states:

“Actually, there are a significant number of people and organizations, who use the outdoors for purposes other than hunting, that don’t want any expansion of Sunday hunting. Many of them hike, bike, horseback ride, bird watch or take part in other activities. Many of them stay clear of properties that allow hunting or border on property that allow hunting on Saturday, but look forward to gunfire-free Sundays.”

FARM BUREAU RESPONDS

According to O’Neill, this paper is from 2011, and there is no direct path to it from the Bureau’s website currently. It can only be found by doing a generic Web search, or if someone shares the link to it.

O’Neill said last week the bureau’s website administrator would be directed to identify the document and remove it.

“We don’t want anyone else to be confused by its content of inaccurately portraying where Farm Bureau stands on the issue,” he said.

The current document published by the Farm Bureau in regards to the 2019 Sunday hunting debate makes no mention of a desire by farmers for peace and quiet, “gunfire free Sundays” or anything else related to noise caused by shooting.

“Pennsylvania Farm Bureau supports the legal operation of shooting clubs in Pennsylvania and the ability of their patrons to shoot firearms on Sundays,” O’Neill said.

“Farm Bureau does not support - and is not aware of - any attempt to place Sunday restrictions on gun clubs or shooting ranges across the state.”

Doug Lapp is a western Chester County farmer who is a member of that county’s Farm Bureau delegation. Lapp wants Sunday hunting expanded, and he has heard farmers talk about “not wanting to hear gunshots on Sundays,” he said.

But Lapp said he doesn’t think anyone within the Farm Bureau’s membership would petition the organization to restrict all gunfire on Sundays in Pennsylvania. And if someone did propose such a measure, Lapp said he feels certain it would never be approved by the membership.

Still, Daub stands by his claim that the Farm Bureau is attacking Second Amendment rights of all Pennsylvanians.

“These are their words,” he said.

But to O’Neill, putting those words in context is critical.

“We have seen a lot of completely inaccurate information and misrepresentations of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau policy on the Sunday hunting issue over the past few months, and those comments have all been attributed to people who are in favor of expanding Sunday hunting,” O’Neill said.