Over the past two weeks, there has been a great deal of misinformation regarding the National Rifle Association’s position on House Bill 97, sponsored by State Representative Edward Staback (D-115). It is time to set the record straight. While all reasonable people will agree that penalties should be imposed against those who violate wildlife laws, there can be legitimate disagreement with regard to how severe the penalties should be for specific offenses. One of the basic tenets of the American justice system is that the proposed penalties correlate with the severity of the offense. After a great deal of consideration, it is the NRA’s position that the appropriate balance has not been reached in House Bill 97.
Make no mistake, poaching is theft of one of our most treasured public resources and should be punished in a manner that provides an effective deterrent for potential offenders while still serving the interests of justice. The NRA is concerned that the punishment proposed in this legislation for the professional, calculating criminal poacher is often the same as that for the licensed hunter who may exercise poor judgment. We believe appropriate distinctions must be made.
The proponents of this legislation often portray it as targeting the worst of the worst offenders – those who kill numerous animals for the meat market or regularly trophy hunt from vehicles using spotlights in the dead of night. However the provisions in House Bill 97 go well beyond this portrayal.
The legislation’s proposed misdemeanor classifications for “out of season” and “over the bag limit” offenses involve numerous violations which are not necessarily “bad actor/ poacher” specific but receive the same penalty. For example, under this proposal, a licensed hunter who fails to report a mistaken turkey kill (big game) or shoots a turkey five minutes before or after legal shooting hours faces the same penalties as a poacher shooting two deer (big game) from a vehicle at midnight. Under this proposal, both violations would be classified as a misdemeanor in the third degree punishable by up to six months in prison, a $1,500 to $3,000 fine and a five year hunting license revocation. Clearly these two events vary in criminal intent and culpability, however, under this proposal they are treated identically.
Another example would be a turkey hunter who accidentally shoots a second turkey while shooting the intended target. If the hunter exercises poor judgment and fails to report the second bird as a “mistaken kill,” he faces the possibility of sitting in the same jail cell with the “midnight poacher” for the same length of time.
Finally, if the same hunter is convicted of a second similar qualifying misdemeanor offense of the third degree within a ten year period he faces a felony of the third degree punishable by three years in prison, a $10,000 to $15,000 fine, a 15 year hunting license revocation and a lifetime loss of his constitutional right to own firearms. In fact, the fines for this offense are higher than those allowed under the Pa. Crimes Code for involuntary manslaughter, arson, luring a child into a motor vehicle, endangering the welfare of a child and assaulting a child.
Please contact the members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee TODAY and urge committee members to ensure that the proposed penalties in House Bill 97 truly fit the crime. Specifically, felony penalties should be reserved for the most offensive poaching acts. Misdemeanor and summary penalties still carry significant fines and months of potential incarceration and work to deter all but the most dedicated offenders. A roster of committee members and links to their contact information can be found here.