It’s time for the Commonwealth of Virginia, my adopted home state, to repeal antiquated blue laws prohibiting public land hunting on Sundays.
Not only are they outdated, they go against the very principles inset in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. One of its seven principles, the democracy of hunting, stipulates the government must allocate “access to wildlife without regard for wealth, prestige, or land ownership.”
The Virginia General Assembly will convene on January 13th for the 2021 legislative session to deliberate, among many bills, House Bill 1799 to undo these prohibitions.
Lawmakers will have until February 27th to advance or pass on the bill.
With more Americans, including Virginians, going hunting in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this bill can remedy outstanding issues that impede public land access here in our state.
Limited Sunday Hunting Isn’t Sufficient. HR 1799 Can Remedy This.
On January 4th, Delegate James E. Edmunds II (R)—a dedicated sportsman in his own right—introduced House Bill 1799 to repeal remaining blue laws regarding Sunday hunting bans on public lands.
Edmunds’ bill, if passed, would remove “prohibition against hunting or killing on public lands a wild bird or wild animal, including a nuisance species, with a gun, firearm, or other weapon on Sunday.”
Once the General Assembly convenes, the bill will be heard in the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources in the House of Delegates. And so on.
It’s important to note, however, Virginia already has some semblance of Sunday hunting—but on private land and many public waters.
In 2014, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) signed Delegate Todd Gilbert’s bipartisan House Bill 1237 into law. It amended § 29.1-521 of the Virginia Code to permit hunting on private lands and game birds on state waters during Sundays, respectively.
On this token, Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate members must lean on precedent while considering HB 1799. Let’s hope they do.
Why Sunday Hunting Bans Still Exist
According to the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, Sunday hunting bans comprise the “last remaining examples of the puritanical blue laws that were initially designed to encourage church attendance.”
Common puritanical blue laws, they noted, included once-illegal Sunday activities like operating businesses, imbibing alcohol, and tilling farmland.
A coalition of hunting organizations further explained, “During the later part of the 19th century, these restrictions began to be challenged by merchants’ associations and by 1970 only 25 states still had Blue Laws. This number had fallen to 13 by 1984. As one economist suggests, positive externalities can arise from resting or enjoying free time collectively; however, negative externalities can also result from synchronized economic activity. This is especially true for retail activities which by definition require some to work while others do not.”
Today, Americans don’t have to choose between one or the other. They have the ability to equally attend church and partake in hunting trips on Sundays as they see fit. Many argue hunting and spending time outdoors can bring one closer to God. Why shouldn’t the experience supplement regular church-going activities?
Thankfully, those supporting outdated blue laws have diminished influence today.
Sunday Hunting Benefits
On the East Coast, public land hunting opportunities are quite scarce. Despite this, ensuring access is pivotal—especially when accommodating new hunters.
Sunday hunting opportunities can lead to more recruitment and retention of new hunters. As more people learn about its inherent benefits, especially through means like this, an appreciation for stewardship can also be cultivated. And it must. Hunting is an all-encompassing activity.
Furthermore, Sunday hunting helps bolster local and state economies.
The Sunday Hunting Coalition, led by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), previously estimated expanded hunting opportunities like this could add $296 million to Virginia’s economy and support nearly 4,000 jobs here.
Best of all? Hunters are essential for continuing future conservation efforts. Without them, critical programs could be imperiled.
Cyrus Baird, Safari Club International (SCI)’s manager of government affairs, succinctly laid out the case for passing HB 1799 in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial, writing, “With the pandemic still ongoing, and more Virginians turning to the outdoors as an escape, it’s time to repeal the ban on Sunday hunting on public lands and allow those who don’t have access to private lands another day afield.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment.
In our increasingly divided country, the Great Outdoors is one of the few unspoiled things bringing people together. Time in the field is healing. It’s spiritual. It’s relaxing. And best of all, it’s humbling.
We would be better served by our representatives if bills like this are heard, passed, and ultimately signed into law.