In response to a recent article on the website of U.S. News and World Report, in which sportsmen’s groups voiced opposition to a draft recreational shooting policy that could severely restrict or eliminate recreational shooting on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, BLM has issued a statement that—on the surface—sounds very positive. The BLM statement to U.S. News reads in part:
“The Department of Interior [which oversees BLM] fully supports and encourages hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on America’s public lands…The BLM wants to protect opportunities for recreational shooting on public lands and reduce the possibility for conflicts that in the past have resulted in some recreational shooting closures.” (Read the full article here.)
In addition, an unidentified BLM spokesperson told U.S. News, “Our goal is to leave lands open to shooting.”
In the original article, a BLM spokesperson said restrictions were not driven by a safety issue, but a “social conflict issue.” He referred to citizens “freaking out” when they hear gunfire on public lands. Such complaints may cause headaches for federal agencies, but they are no reason to shut down an entire class of recreational activity in which millions of Americans participate.
While it is certainly comforting to hear BLM officials go on the record in support of American gun owners using public lands, actions speak louder than words.
For one thing, BLM’s draft recreational shooting policy has major ramifications for the public—yet BLM did not release it for public review or comment.
The section of the announcement that concerns millions of shooters across the country reads: “When the authorized officer determines that a site or area on BLM-managed lands used on a regular basis for recreational shooting is creating public disturbance, or is creating risk to other persons on public lands; is contributing to the defacement, removal or destruction of natural features, native plants, cultural resources, historic structures or government and/or private property; is facilitating or creating a condition of littering, refuse accumulation and abandoned personal property is violating existing use restrictions, closure and restriction orders, or supplementary rules notices, and reasonable attempts to reduce or eliminate the violations by the BLM have been unsuccessful, the authorized officer will close the affected area to recreational shooting.”
In response to this proposed ban, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona has introduced “The Recreational Shooting Protection Act of 2011.” This bill will prevent a ban on recreational shooting from taking effect on BLM lands nationwide. The NRA strongly supports this bill and is working hard to ensure its support and passage.
“This proposal is yet another example of the Obama administration’s contempt for gun owners and America’s shooting sports heritage,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). “Federal lands provide recreational shooters with an affordable means of enjoying their pastime and that is crucial in these trying economic times. This callous Obama administration proposal would drastically diminish recreational shooting opportunities for millions of people across the country. The shooting sports are an important part of our national culture and must be protected now and for generations to come and NRA will lead this fight as we have for 140 years.”
Even as BLM officials claim a commitment to keeping shooting lands open, their actions suggest otherwise. In fact, there are management plans under consideration right now that would ban recreational shooting on more than 600,000 acres of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and Ironwood Forest National Monuments. Recreational shooting is threatened on BLM land in Colorado as well. (NRA and other sportsmen’s groups are fighting to keep all of these areas open.)
And while the U.S. News articles have brought some mainstream visibility to the issue, NRA has been advocating changes in BLM policy toward recreational shooting for years.
“The alleged problems with shooters BLM refers to stem more from their longstanding refusal to take even minimal managerial responsibility for the activity than anything else. They fail to acknowledge shooting as a legitimate, traditional use of public lands, and shooting is held to a higher standard of stewardship than other outdoor activities,” said Susan Recce, NRA-ILA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources. “Further, as long as BLM prohibits leasing of land for shooting ranges, fails to designate safe shooting areas, and continues to treat shooting as a subordinate, second-rate activity in management plans, we remain skeptical of the statement that they fully ‘support and encourage’ it.
“As we have in the past,” Recce concluded, “NRA encourages BLM to work with the Federal Lands Hunting and Shooting Sports Roundtable to expand opportunities for recreational shooters and fulfill BLM’s multiple-use mandate.”
The roundtable, a group of 40 sportsmen’s groups and three federal agencies, was spearheaded by NRA to facilitate access to Federal lands for hunting and recreational shooting.