|The NRA’s motivation for supporting Senate Bill 300 in Missouri has been attacked by some individuals and organizations and you should know the truth. SB 300 is a bill that would allow centerfire handguns to be used during the state’s muzzleloader hunting seasons. Like with countless other proposed laws each year throughout the country, the NRA supports this bill because it expands hunter opportunity and choice. It does this while maintaining the spirit associated with this lesser weapons season. Expanded opportunity and choice help to improve critical hunter recruitment and retention efforts. The state Legislature has chosen to consider this bill after the Conservation Commission failed to act on a similar rule proposal for three long years.
The recent criticisms of the NRA’s efforts are based on an unfortunate myth associated with the Missouri Constitution. This myth has been perpetuated for years by Department of Conservation officials and their allies in so-called conservation organizations in the state. They deceitfully or naively claim that Article IV, Section 40 of the Constitution prohibits the Legislature from creating hunting-related laws. In fact, it explicitly recognizes the Legislature’s authority to do just this.
The pertinent language of Article IV, Section 40 reads:
The control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the bird, fish, game, forestry and all wildlife resources of the state, including hatcheries, sanctuaries, refuges, reservations and all other property owned, acquired or used for such purposes and the acquisition and establishment thereof, and the administration of all laws pertaining thereto, shall be vested in a conservation commission…. (Emphasis added.)
The critics of the NRA act as if “and the administration of all laws pertaining thereto” is not part of this Section (it is repeated two more times in this Section). However strongly these critics wish it away, this language really does mean something and what it means is that the Legislature may enact any laws it chooses with regard to all of the subjects mentioned previously in Section 40 (i.e. management of wildlife). The Conservation Commission is then assigned the duty of administering those laws. Of course, only the Legislature is empowered to enact laws while the Commission is empowered to adopt rules and regulations. This is a fact that only further clarifies what should be clear to anyone capable of reading.
Those who wrongfully claim that the issue related to this legislative authority is settled law cite a completely unrelated court case pertaining to the authority to expend funds generated by the conservation sales tax. In this regard, the Missouri Constitution is equally clear when it states that the monies are “…to be expended and used by the conservation commission…” Unlike the language of Section 40, this provision does, indeed, provide the Commission with sole authority – in this case to expend tax monies.
If SB 300 becomes law and the law is challenged in the courts, it is the fault of those who choose to initiate frivolous litigation. Threats of frivolous lawsuits will not deter the NRA from doing what is right with regard to public policy advocacy. They should not intimidate the Legislature either.
Ending this myth once and for all has never been more important. Unfortunately for the state’s hunters and gun owners, the Conservation Commission has become more and more motivated by politics and emotion. There are many examples of this but the most dangerous is the implementation of widespread lead shot bans for hunting on state lands. There is absolutely no science showing population level effects on wildlife species resulting from the use of lead shot for hunting. Despite this, the Commission pushed ahead with these bans and many believe, based upon this history, that it could attempt to implement the first statewide ban on the use of traditional ammunition for hunting in the nation.
At some point, the Legislature will likely need to exercise its constitutional power pursuant to Article IV, Section 40 to intervene on behalf of science, hunters and gun owners. In order to do this, this myth that the Conservation Commission is the sole authority with regard to hunting and wildlife policy must be debunked once and for all. Through its advocacy of the enhanced hunter opportunity offered in SB 300, the NRA is taking a stand to uphold the plain language of the Missouri Constitution. Contrary to the claims of the critics, this is an honorable endeavor.