The Politics of Hunting in Pennsylvania
In the past week, Pennsylvania residents have been subjected to TV ads featuring U.S. Senate candidate Dave McCormick firing a series of weapons, showing his experience as a teenage hunter, a West Point cadet and a solider in Iraq.
“I’m Dave McCormick and I approve this message to protect the second amendment because that’s what guarantees the rest.”
Today, Mehmet Oz released a new ad showing the celebrity doctor from New Jersey handling a rifle, explaining how his father taught him about how to handle a rifle and that he is passing along the same lesson to his son.
“It’s about our constitutional right to protect ourselves from intruders or an overly intrusive government,” said Oz in his ad.
Four years ago, Conor Lamb introduced himself to the Commonwealth with a video that stated he served four years in the Marines. “Still loves to shoot.”
In 2020, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported over 887,000 general hunting licenses for residents of the Commonwealth. The Commission estimated hunters took 435,180 deer during the 2020-21 seasons.
“No other state in the Northeast can match those numbers, not even when taking landmass into account,” the Game Commission wrote highlighting the season.
Pennsylvania by the numbers
– Percent of residents with paid hunting licenses: 7.3% (24th out of 50 states)
– Total paid hunting license holders: 930,815
– Total hunting license, tags, permits and stamps: 2,646,720
– Gross cost of all hunting licenses: $36,873,199
But this appears to be more than just about hunting for sport.
A little over a decade ago, the Supreme Court redefined the Second Amendment. Before then, in the eyes of the federal courts, the amendment protected the rights of state militias to bear arms — not the rights of individual Americans. That all changed in 2008 with the stroke of a pen.
The scale of Second Amendment arms puts firearms into context. To be sure, Americans possess hundreds of millions of guns. But researchers trace most firearms to multiple-gun owners, and about half to “super-owners” — the three percent of the adult population that owns 17 guns on average.
Most eligible Americans do not possess firearms, and the percentage of households that do has dropped in recent decades, according to one commonly cited survey, from 47 percent in 1980 to 31 percent in 2014. On an individual level, that survey found that only 22 percent of American adults own a firearm; 78 percent do not. Far more people own knives for the basic reason that they have broader utility in day-to-day life. Some Second Amendment scholars have called knives “the most common ‘arm’ in the United States.”
Politicians supported by gun rights groups similarly assume that the Second Amendment is just about guns. In fact, the Republican Party’s official platform conflates gun rights and Second Amendment rights:
“We uphold the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, a natural inalienable right that predates the Constitution and is secured by the Second Amendment. Lawful gun ownership enables Americans to exercise their God-given right of self-defense for the safety of their homes, their loved ones, and their communities.”
As the days count down to the primary election on May 17, we will continue to see candidates utilizing “hunting” and firearms to make their case for who is the most “Pennsylvanian.”