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Dennert’s NRA Hunting Amendment Fails in Committee

As a sign that we may not need Senator Bolin’s SJR 2 to protect our constitution from unnecessary amendments, Republican legislators this week killed a lifestyle amendment from the National Rifle Association.

Rookie Representative Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen) brought House Joint Resolution 1001, a proposal to have us vote on adding the following language to our state constitution:

Hunting, fishing, and trapping wildlife is a valued part of our heritage that shall forever be preserved for the people; water, wildlife, and other natural resources held in the public trust shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good but do not create a right to trespass on private property except as allowed by law, regulation, easement, or contract [HJR 1001, Section 2, introduced 2017.01.20].

Rep. Drew Dennert
Rep. Drew Denner

As I observed when Representative Dennert mentioned this project in the press before introduction, this feel-good, do-nothing language is adapted from the National Rifle Association’s model “sporting heritage” amendment. The intent is to protect the NRA’s market from anti-hunting “extremists,” although in Indiana, which easily passed a similar amendment last November, the Humane Society and the Department of Natural Resources contended that the amendment would change nothing about current or future fish and wildlife regulations. A Chicago Tribune columnist called the NRA hunt-fish-trap amendment “stupendously stupid” and likened it to the Indiana Legislature’s effort in 1897 to define π as 3.2. The NRA amendment seems to serve little purpose beyond some faint machismo boost: Our constitution says we can shoot us some critters yar-de-har-har!

Useless macho bang-bang legislation usually gets a warm reception in Pierre. But after the National Association for Gun Rights, South Dakota Bowhunters, South Dakota Wildlife, and the South Dakota Izaak Walton League spoke in favor of HJR 1001, Big Ag raised its voice via the Farm Bureau, the Stock Growers, and the Corn Growers to oppose the hunt-fish-trap amendment on grounds of superfluity and unintended consequences to property rights.

Rep. David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) “quizzed” Rep. Dennert and asked, based on his Legislatively engaged family’s commitment to hunting and agriculture, which is more important to the Dennert family, the ability to work the land or the ability to hunt and fish. Rep. Dennert equivocated, saying both are equally important fundamental rights and that to this day some people still rely on hunting and fishing as their main source of food. Rep. Lust followed up, noting that “your grandfather is probably listening,” and insisted that Rep. Dennert choose. Thus boxed, Rep. Dennert acceded to the primacy of property rights.

In his later remarks, Rep. Lust acknowledged the “pleasure of putting a new legislator on the spot,” then explained his opposition to the NRA’s language:

There’s nothing in our constitution right now that guarantees someone the right to farm. There’s nothing in our constitution that guarantees someone the right to be a lawyer, nor to be a fireman, policeman. All of those we would all argue are foundational to—maybe not the lawyer part—is foundational to our society, right? If we don’t have something in our constitution on farming, on some people’s right to farm—and I think Representative Dennert answered the question properly and his grandfather would be proud—we don’t need to put things like this in our constitution [Rep. David Lust, remarks on HJR 1001, House State Affairs, 2017.01.25, timestamp 24:58].

In a sign that the Wollmann sex scandal remains keenly on legislators’ minds, Representative Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center) used both screw and dink in his remarks on HJR 1001:

“Don’t screw with the constitution,” was the simple message from Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, who voted no.

…He said Dennert’s ideas would work well in the form of a general resolution that declares support for outdoors activities, but they don’t need to be in the constitution.

There’s no need to “dink” with the state constitution to get an emotional high, Rhoden said [Scott Waltman, “Resolution That Would Ask Voters to Add Hunting, Fishing, Trapping as Constitutional Rights Killed,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.01.25].

Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea?), a great fan of trivial constitutional grandstanding, tried to save his young Aberdeen friend’s constitutional diddling by amending HJR 1001 down to just its first 20 words. Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) stepped in with a substitute motion to kill HJR 1001, and House State Affairs followed the Speaker. HJR 1001 failed 9–4, losing four sponsors (Bartling, Beal, Lust, and Qualm). Eight Republicans and one Democrat voted for a cleaner constitution and Bs on their NRA report card; three Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of NRA-stroking constitutional clutter.

Rep. Dennert can now focus his attention on more substantial gun legislation in his co-sponsoring portfolio, like House Bill 1072 and Senate Bill 94, which would let people carry concealed firearms without a permit, and Senate Bill 89, Senator Stace Nelson’s really bad idea about letting people sue their schools for not allowing guns on campus.


  1. mike from iowa 2017-01-28 09:01

    South Dakota, being a totally wingnut run cluster, doesn’t have more pressing problems?

  2. Darin Larson 2017-01-28 09:34

    I have to applaud when common sense prevails. clap clap clap

  3. Porter Lansing 2017-01-28 10:21

    Who’s training these young legislators? The Negativity Research Alliance (NRA)? Every darn bill is “don’t do this” or “don’t do that”. Does any lawmaker have any new ideas to build something or create something that can help people have an easier and better life? Negativity Bias out of control.

  4. mike from iowa 2017-01-28 10:27

    koch bros have set up their own Saul Alinsky School of community organizers to train young wingnuts to invade cities and take over.

  5. jerry 2017-01-28 10:40

    Porter, the John Birch Society has always been the rotted root. All trails lead there.

  6. Porter Lansing 2017-01-28 11:10

    The continual negativity bias is a result of the intense aversion to not spend a damn penny to help the state or anyone in it. What can you do for free when you’re elected to make changes? Tell somebody what not to do is always free … but worthless.

  7. scott 2017-01-28 15:22

    Just another example of trying to impose personal believes or personal agendas. These type of things just make the SD Legislator look like a bunch of school yard kids who can not figure out how to spend their recess time.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-01-28 21:59

    Porter, what’s that? You expect TAR campers like Dennert and Wollmann to come up with practical policy by which government can actually do things to promote the general welfare? You must be thinking of that alternative reality where the GOP nominates a real policymaker like John Kasich… or where South Dakota comes to its senses and elects people like McGovern, Wollmann, Herseth, and Daschle, the only people who get anything done for South Dakota.

  9. John W. 2017-01-29 13:12

    This has yet another downside that legislators can’t seem to fathom. Making hunting, fishing and trapping a constitutional right automatically nullifies a huge number of rules and regulations designed specifically to regulate hunting ethics and behavior. Enforcement of conservation law is difficult enough without having a contradictory guiding principle in the Constitution. Those states that now have such a thing are regretting their decision because it has hamstrung their wildlife law enforcement and created significant management issues that are harming wildlife. Compare this to driving! In most states: to include SD, there are enumerable laws (both legislative and Commission administrative rules) that require a persons “privilege” to hunt, fish or trap be revoked for a specific period of time if the law is violated. If one drives drunk, same thing occurs with a DL. If it becomes a right to hunt, fish or trap, neither the law nor the courts can require someone to surrender his constitutional right. Essentially, what that does is lay the foundation for repeal of the hunting, fishing or trapping license requirement and from there, wildlife conservation dies from the lack of funding.

    As for the NRA, the organization actually uses hunters to maintain their political power without supporting wildlife conservation one iota. If it weren’t for gun owners that use their firearms primarily for hunting, the NRA would have much less influence and power than it does.

    In fact, I would submit that the NRA and other “gun rights” groups actively subtract from wildlife conservation and management by diverting money and much needed political support to gun rights rather than wildlife management as it use to be. A survey was done some time back that inquired of wildlife professionals how many of them paid membership dues to gun rights organizations such as the NRA. 80+ percent of wildlife professionals nation wide,(those people that work entire careers in wildlife management to provide hunting opportunity to the Commons) did not belong to the NRA or any other gun group. The NRA has been able to fragment and weaken wildlife conservation and management with it’s insistence that if guns aren’t fully defended and politics aren’t permanently emblazoned with it’s logo and rhetoric, hunting and wildlife won’t matter. The exact opposite is true. Just like Kelly Ann Conway, the organization is just full of alternate facts that have done nearly as much damage to the wildlife conservation community than draining, filling or diverting wetlands and water quality.

  10. Peter Carrels 2017-01-29 20:58

    Some of this is driven by the fact that hunting -as a form of outdoor recreation- is losing favor with more and more citizens. There is a reaction to this trend. I grew up hunting waterfowl and upland birds and I understand the attraction of those activities. But non-consumptive recreational pursuits such as bird-watching, hiking and trail biking are dramatically gaining popularity or are more popular than sport hunting. Those who measure and monitor such things are aware of this. The new trends are increasingly influential as we attempt to recruit new citizens to South Dakota. We need to consider how to accommodate the needs of outdoor-loving non-hunters.

  11. grudznick 2017-01-29 21:03

    Mr. H, you confuse my old mind with your statement “elects people like McGovern, Wollmann, Herseth, and Daschle, the only people who get anything done for South Dakota.”

    Why do you put young Mr. Wollmann in with some of your favorite Democrats from South Dakota? Surely you are not confusing Mr. Wollmann with former Governor Wollman, the man known as The Harv who was against The Borehole that could have saved Redfield.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-01-30 18:32

    Grudz, you goad. You understand perfectly well from context that I refer to the esteemed (and still available to run for Governor in 2018… Harvey? Are you listening?) Governor Harvey Wollmann. Young Mathew is a feckless fade-bound footnote, with no legacy but a little black book with checkmarks.

    Per Pete’s comment—interesting to think hunting is on the wane. I marched against pheasant and duck with my dad’s shotgun when I was twelve. I have no urge to deny anyone else that opportunity. But when I hit the trails and fields and sloughs and forests, I don’t feel the need to kill anything… unless it’s angling to kill me.

  13. Porter Lansing 2017-01-30 18:50

    Nice anecdote, young Mr. Heidelberger. Hunting has nearly passed me by, also.

  14. grudznick 2017-01-30 18:51

    Governor Harvey Wollman. You’ve got double-N’s on the brain, Mr. H. That was my point. Wollmann is the recently resigned fellow from the legislatures. Wollman is the former short-term governor who is against The Borehole.

  15. John W. 2017-01-30 19:21

    On a National level, in the most recent polls I’ve seen, the American public supports ethical hunting as long as it is done as a “food gathering exercise.” (which would be culturally consistent with movement started clear back before WWII. This gets pretty complicated but…. the metric most advertised by Wildlife management agencies across the US suggests that approximately 10% of our population define themselves as hunters. License sales, while a poor measurement of numerics due to duplicate sales for different species, areas, states etc, would tend to support that. 10% of the public are vociferous in their opposition to hunting and 80% remain in the middle with opinions ranging from ambivalence to full support conditional on fair chase mores and ethics. Sadly, the hunting community and the NRA seem to shrug those statistics off and continue down the path of things like trophy hunting shows, filling bag limits and glorifying the hunter rather than the wildlife in print, photo and song. It’s nuts. But, there are a great many more primary reasons for decline in hunter participation and Delwin Benson from Colorado State U identified them back in the 1980s and still nobody pays attention. While hunters and their respective Wildlife management agencies pour thousands of dollars and enormous resources into “hunter recruitment” (particularly youth) they ignore the segment of the hunting ranks that actually has the incentive and wherewithall to reverse the downward trend. In stead of hunter recruitment, Benzon’s work shows that we should be focusing on hunter “retention”. If there are no older hunters to invite and mentor the young, the impressionable, and the inexperienced, there isn’t anyone else that will. And no, all these special “youth hunts” sponsored by various and sundry groups and agencies have never proven that such activities actually recruit young people into the outdoor past times. Access to private land has become a huge issue and finding places to hunt that aren’t so crowded and empty of game have been one of the honest reasons why many hunters have hung up their firearms. Private land trophy fees, access fees, trespass fees or whatever one labels them, have done more to encourage veteran hunters to drop out. There are other things like license costs, complexity of regulations and one of the bigger ones is reduced wildlife populations. All of those things are contributing to hunter declines and the trend will continue as long as we continue to follow politicians who believe that exploiting resources for fun and profit is good stewardship.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-01-31 21:59

    Heck and darn, Grudz! You’re right! That dastardly District 8 disgrace with his mixed-up consonants has failed my grasp of history.

    Harvey Lowell Wollman. One dang N!

  17. Darin Larson 2017-01-31 22:52

    I noticed the extra “n” as well, Cory, but thought it bad form to Grudzpick it apart. ;-) Your minor imperfections only prove you are human and not just a robot from the future.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-02-01 06:57

    But a robot from the future would know how to cover its tracks with deliberate, humanizing errors, because it recognizes how frightened some South Dakotans are of anyone who is different. :-D

  19. mike from iowa 2017-02-01 08:22

    But a robot from the future would know how to cover its tracks with deliberate, humanizing errors, because it recognizes how frightened some South Dakotans are of anyone who is different. :-D

    Not one programmed by winngnnuts. I gave you a couple extra ns. Feel free to use them anywhere.

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