Republican state Sen. Margaret Dayton is looking at legislation that would allow government officials to ban target shooting in certain areas of the state.
The Orem legislator opened a bill file to address the target shooting issue after the AR fire scorched 1,600 acres west of Utah Lake in the first part of June, and it is even more relevant now as the Dump Fire is still smoldering near Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs. Dayton, who is a strong supporter of pro-Second Amendment legislation, said she is crafting the bill to still allow for gun owners to have options, but said she is looking out for the safety of the public first.
"I want to protect gun rights, but not at the cost of the safety of others," Dayton said. "The west side of Utah Lake is a pretty popular place for target shooting, but it needs to be controlled during fire season."
Under current state law target shooting cannot be banned on state property, but certain types of ammunition can be restricted. The state and federal agencies that oversee Utah's public lands have outlawed tracer ammunition this year to cut down on fire risks from target shooters, but that appears to be the most they can do to cut down on the potential risk from the shooters.
Dayton's proposal looks to give counties and the state forester more latitude to restrict target shooting for periods of time if conditions prove to be favorable for shooters causing fires.
"When we have hazardous conditions like this, we'd like to prohibit the use of target shooting in certain areas where we have had issues of fires," said Dick Buehler, Utah's forester and director of the state's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. "We don't want to take your Second Amendment rights away." Buehler, who is advising Dayton on how to craft the law, said he would like the law to allow for his office and the counties to have authority to restrict target shooting in certain areas for a limited amount of time if conditions are such that fires are a major risk in the area. He stated in his plan for the bill that restrictions could be lifted if area conditions improved.
"These fires are costing taxpayers a whole bunch of money to fight these fires," Buehler said.
One issue with the land located on the west side of Utah Lake is many target shooters are unaware of whose land they are on when they are shooting. The area is a patchwork of BLM, private and state-owned land, which means three different policies could be in play as far as restrictions, but no one would know which restriction is in place since it is hard to determine whose land is whose without a map.
Buehler stated if some authority was given to his office or the counties to issue a ban, they could then coordinate with the federal agencies over the federal land to better enforce a target shooting ban. Private land would be subject to the landowners' wishes.
The bill is in its early stages of being crafted and may very well look different than its current form when it comes up for consideration. The bill likely would be heard in the Legislature's general session that begins in January.
State officials have said target shooters are responsible for 20 fires in the state so far this year. Target shooters are carrying the blame for the Dump Fire that has been burning near Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs since Thursday. The blaze has burned more than 5,500 acres of land and forced the evacuation of 500 homes for one night while crews fought the flames.