Sunday hunting lawsuit tossed

Harrisburg —  A lawsuit seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s ban on hunting on Sundays has been rejected by a federal judge.

Hunters United for Sunday Hunting filed the suit in 2013. U.S. Middle District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed it on June 18, saying that the Lancaster County-based group had failed to prove any of its points.

The suit had challenged the ban on several fronts. Most notably, it sought to show that – based on recent Supreme Court decisions – hunting was a federally protected right under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“That would have been huge for hunters,” said one of the group’s director, Kathy Davis, of Washington County.

Kane didn’t agree with that assertion, however.

In her 16-page ruling, she wrote that while there’s been some discussion at the Supreme Court level of exactly what the Second Amendment protects, the lawsuit’s arguments ignore “the context of the Supreme Court’s opinion, which actually ties the codification of the Second Amendment to the populace’s fear that the federal government would destroy the citizen’s militia by taking away their arms, not that the federal government would regulate recreational hunting.”

Kane agreed with the lawsuit that the ban on Sunday hunting creates different “classes” of hunters. That’s because the ban on Sunday hunting is only partial. She noted that it’s legal to hunt coyotes, foxes, crows and feral swine on Sundays, while other species are off limits.

But she didn’t agree that the creation of classes created unequal protection under the law.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission, the defendant in the case, as required by law – even though in 2010 the agency’s board voted to support Sunday hunting – argued that so long as the ban that picks and choose what can and can’t be hunted on Sundays has a “rational basis,” it’s defensible.

The “state Legislature rationally could believe that, for reasons related to conservation or game management, certain wildlife may be hunted seven days a week and others should not;” and, that “the General Assembly reasonably could believe that more weekend hunting days would result in a greater harvest of certain wildlife for the simple reason that more hunters would be afield on two-day weekends.”

Kane agreed with that argument. Hunters United for Sunday Hunting provided no “factual” arguments to the contrary, she said.

“Balancing these straight-forward justifications against Plaintiffs’ conclusory allegation that [the law] is without rational basis, the Court finds that Plaintiffs fail to state an equal protection claim …,” Kane wrote.

The group also failed to convince Kane that the Sunday hunting ban should be overturned on a religious basis. The lawsuit alleged that the ban “violates their religious beliefs and coerces them to participate in any state religion in violation of the First Amendment.”

Kane disagreed, writing that “allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.”

One thing Kane did not do – and which may keep Sunday hunting in the courts – is prohibit the group from taking its claims to state court.

That’s what may happen. Davis said directors of Hunters United for Sunday Hunting were meeting on June 22 to discuss their next steps. A move to go to state court was possible, she said.

“I don’t want anyone to lose heart. This is far from over,” she said.

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