By Bob Allen
An NRA-backed bill to end North Carolina’s ban on Sunday hunting has triggered a debate between God and guns.
The Christian Action League of North Carolina, a public-policy organization representing 17 conservative denominations including the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, opposes HB 640, a repeal of North Carolina’s 145-year-old Sunday hunting ban.
Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League and a former Southern Baptist pastor, posted an action alert May 8 warning about the bill which passed the House by a wide margin and is now before the Senate.
Creech said the legislation “weakens the value of ‘The Lord’s Day’ to the culture” and “ignores the Fourth Commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.’”
“Big organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) are supporting and promoting this legislation,” Creech said. “The Christian Action League believes the NRA is a great organization for protecting our nation’s Second Amendment rights, but they are wrong to support this bill.”
One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Republican Rep. Michele Presnell, is a member of Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated West Burnsville Baptist Church. She also is a lifetime member of NRA and holds a concealed-carry permit.
An NRA action alert said “restrictions on Sunday hunting tacitly endorse the view of animal ‘rights’ extremists that there is something wrong with hunting.”
Creech disputed that assertion in an open letter May 25, citing previous articles he wrote criticizing “extreme environmentalists and animal rights groups.”
“We believe in the right to bear arms,” Creech said. “We believe in hunting. We believe animals are a part of God’s creation, but not equal to man with similar rights. Yet we differ from you on Sunday hunting.”
The bill would allow hunting with firearms on private land. Archery, skeet and falconry hunting are already legal on Sundays.
Supporters say the ban forces hunters to venture into neighboring states, causing an economic loss to North Carolina, and argue that “blue laws” banning Sunday activities are a relic of the past.
Opponents argue the Sunday ban leaves room for other outdoor recreation like horseback riding and that dropping it would create a safety hazard and noise interruption for worshippers in rural churches.
Creech said the proposed legislation pits rural North Carolina against urban North Carolina, because counties with higher population density are exempt.
The legislation forces Sunday hunting on many counties that don’t want it, Creech said, and would likely strain existing state resources for enforcing the new regulations.
“The legislation still poses a threat to the serenity and safety that rural church bodies across the state have traditionally enjoyed on Sunday,” Creech wrote. “HB 640 requires that Sunday hunters be a distance of at least 500 yards from a house of worship and 500 yards from a residence when hunting their prey. But how can law enforcement possibly patrol such distances and guarantee churches won’t suffer violations? Although the legislation requires people to hunt only on private lands with written permission, who can guarantee the bullet from a high-powered rifle will stay on private land and not endanger church parishioners? One may argue that such a danger could exist any other time of the week, but the difference is that on Sundays people are gathered in mass at their churches typically unlike other days of the week – something that heightens the risks. And, most importantly, they are gathered reverently in an act of sacred worship. Moreover, there is nothing in the legislation that specifies a hunter shooting from a distance of 500 yards away from a church, cannot shoot at his prey which is less than 500 yards away from the church.”
The NRA denies the measure “is an attack on the Christian Sabbath.” There is no evidence that allowing hunting on Sundays would negatively impact church attendance, the NRA says, and that safety concerns are overblown.
The occasional sound of gunfire by Sunday hunters would be no more disruptive than other noises like lawnmowers, leaf blowers and riding off-road vehicles that are already permitted on Sunday, the NRA noted.
Creech admits his biggest objection is religious.
“One can appreciate the fact that distinctive Christian institutions like the ‘Lord’s Day’ must find their place in the larger social context,” Creech wrote in a Raleigh News & Observer op-ed May 12. “The problem, however, is that when the general context ignores religion as it mostly does nowadays — failing to properly respond to its sacred institutions — the value of religious influence on the culture becomes greatly diminished, if not ultimately lost. Such cannot bode well for our state and nation.”
“Sunday is the prime time for churches to provide their critical contribution to the general welfare. Studies have shown church attenders have more stable family lives, fewer out-of-wedlock births, fewer abortions, less crime and more positive health outcomes,” Creech contended. “They are also more likely to overcome alcoholism, drug addiction and poverty. “
Creech said churches “hand down the virtues that make a people self-governing — a necessity for a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’”
“Moreover, when people fail to properly govern themselves, the state often has to step in, which creates the danger of larger, more expansive, abusive government policies,” he said.