November 23, 2011

Interior Reverses Course: No Shooting Restrictions

Paul Bedard
Washington Whispers

In a major victory for gun owners, hunters, and conservationists, the Interior Department today reversed course and junked its plan to tighten shooting restrictions on western lands, which could have put areas long used for target practice off limits.

Bowing to complaints from a special advisory committee made up of conservation and hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited, Cabela's, and the National Wildlife Foundation, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today told the Bureau of Land Management, which manages 245 million acres of mostly wild western land, to stop drafting shooting rules.

"Based on feedback that members of the [advisory committee] have provided the BLM on the draft policy guidance, I am directing that the BLM take no further action to develop or implement the policy," wrote Salazar, himself a hunter and shooter and former Colorado senator and game official. [Check out new Debate Club about whether Congress needs to overhaul gun trafficking laws.]

Instead, he said in a letter to BLM, "The BLM shall continue to manage recreational shooting on public lands under the status quo in accordance with resource management and public safety considerations under existing authorities." Just the title alone of his letter made his point to BLM officials and the public: "Protecting Recreational Shooting Opportunities on Public Lands."

The issue of pushing shooters off some public lands where they have traditionally shot targets was a sensational one to gun rights groups and hunters. When Whispers first broke the story about the draft BLM plans, the story was headlined on the Drudge Report and Fox Nation. Officials conceded that the resulting pressure from gun owners who saw the Drudge and Fox report prompted them to clarify, and today end their efforts.

"BLM is not moving forward with the issue you wrote about," said an official. Instead, BLM land managers and not Washington will continue to use their existing authorities to work with communities and create land use plans where closure to shooting is a last resort. [Read about the subpoena issued as a result of Operation Fast and Furious.]

The issue of target practice put the BLM in the middle of traditional American gun rights and the rapid urbanization of once open public lands. Officials from BLM told Whispers that people moving in from more urban areas would "freak out" when walking in woods and hearing shots. Apparently, they also feared for their safety and BLM was working to draft a policy that soothed their concerns and also pleased hunters. Officials suggested that the end result would have been shooters being pushed a bit further away from urbanized areas near BLM lands, even provided with a guide to where they could shoot. They also assured hunters that access to public hunting lands would not be limited even under the draft rules.

But hunters and shooting groups saw it as a federal bid to clamp down on guns and shooting and they resisted. The advisory group, for example, assailed the draft policy.

In the end, they won. In his letter today, Salazar called hunting and shooting on public lands a national priority. He wrote: "It is a priority of the Department of the Interior to support opportunities for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on America's public lands. By facilitating access, multiple use, and safe activities on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management helps ensure that the vast majority of the 245 million acres it oversees are open and remain open to recreational shooting."