This story came from the St. Joseph, MO newspaper:
When it comes to sportsmen and constitutional rights, the Second Amendment and firearms always seem to be at the forefront. Now there’s a new battle in America involving First Amendment rights that could substantially affect the entire outdoor community and every hunter or angler in America.
The issue came to light when an obscure federal law was used in March 2004 to indict Virginia resident Robert Stevens. According to court records, the defendant was charged with knowingly selling depictions of animal cruelty with the intention of placing the depictions in interstate commerce for commercial gain.
What does this federal court case have to do with the outdoors? A look at the actual law used to indict Stevens will show why the outdoor community — including groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) — is speaking out and getting involved.
The law, United States Code, Title 18, Section 48 states; “whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”
It goes on to say this law “does not apply to any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.” The remaining section is what many sportsmen will find disturbing as it goes on to define “depictions of animal cruelty” as “any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed, if such conduct is illegal under federal law or the law of the state in which the creation, sale, or possession takes place, regardless of whether the maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding or killing took place in the State.”
Stevens was initially convicted in the case in Pennsylvania but the decision was then overturned by the Third Court of Appeals. The case is now headed to the United States Supreme Court and will tentatively be heard this fall.
An amicus brief requesting the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the federal statute was filed in the U.S. vs. Stevens case on July 24 by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of The Press (a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists). The brief addresses hunting and fishing videos and other depictions as defined by the federal statute that will affect the entire outdoor community.
The brief describes how the statute used to prosecute Robert Stevens likewise could be used to prosecute producers of outdoor videos, hunting and fishing shows and the media in general.
The brief cited the following example, “killing a deer in Oregon by crossbow is illegal, and can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Yet crossbow hunting is allowed in some cases in Washington State with a valid permit. As broadly as Section 48 is worded, possessing a photograph in Washington of a deer being killed with a crossbow in Oregon becomes a federal felony, even though that type of hunting is sometimes permitted in Washington and the underlying harm is only a misdemeanor in Oregon.
“Worse yet, the reverse is also true because the statute reaches depictions of conduct prohibited by the state in which “possession takes place.” It thus appears to be a felony for anyone in Oregon to possess depictions of legal, licensed crossbow hunting in Washington.”
NRA officials also noted that the federal statute does not apply to any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic “value.” If the statute is upheld, the NRA points out that the federal government will have the legally vague authority to determine “value.”
“They could then use this moral mandate to destroy those they don’t approve of, such as hunters and trappers,” an NRA statement reads. “This is why this case — U.S. v. Stevens — is about the First Amendment, not animal cruelty; after all, animal cruelty is already illegal in all 50 states.”