Target shooting on public lands should be regulated


Recently, I participated in a spirited response sequence to an blog post  in HCN on yet another heated debate about motorized vs. non-motorized travel on public lands. The article's author, Marian Lyman Kirst, described non-motorized travel as "quiet" use, a handy, aggregate term that is widely used to describe activities such as hiking, bicycling, kayaking, and horseback riding. Unfortunately, these interest groups are often portrayed as diametrically opposed to any of the "loud" activities involving motors - ATV, jet-ski, and dirt-bike riding, for example.

Like Kirst, I confess my allegiance to the former group. If I'm out on public lands, I've got binoculars, reins, or oars in my hands. Still, I chafe at absolutes. I've had bad encounters with the "loud" crowd, true, but also friendly ones. Same goes with "quiet" folk. We all have some impact, and we all have to share the trails, so we might as well learn to put up with each other.

There is one "loud" group, however, that I confess I sometimes have a hard time with: target shooters. It's not that I'm anti-gun. My spouse is a Marine Corps vet, and many members of my family are gun owners. I also understand that shooting ranges can get crowded, and that an outdoor environment presents a more challenging scenario for practice. Those who go to areas traditionally used for target practice, shoot off some rounds in a safe manner, and then clean up after themselves have my grudging respect.


Problem is, those who don't are not only loud and annoying, they can be dangerous and destructive, and it isn't just me who has an issue with it. Here in Arizona, so many saguaros and other plants have been damaged by bullets in Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson that the BLM's new management plan recommends a ban of recreational shooting. In Utah last summer, wildfires near Utah Lake were blamed  on gunfire, and only this week , a target shooter in Texas has been charged with injuring two boys who were playing basketball outside a school near where he was practicing.

The National Rifle Association disputes  accounts of many of these incidents, because that's what they do. Their arguments usually involve accusations that a few random incidents are blown out of proportion, or that each closure or prosecution is part of a string of organized attempts to destroy responsible gun-owners' rights. One of the saddest comments I've heard recently from an NRA representative was in response  to the proposed ban in Ironwood Forest. Todd Rathner, an NRA lobbyist, was quoted in the Arizona Daily Star as saying, "the problem is that the environmentalists think that any human use of these areas is somehow a threat to the environment."

I understand "quiet" vs. "loud," even though it unfairly lumps together diverse bunches of recreationists. But "environmentalists" vs. "any human use" is really out of bounds, don't you think? Like it or not, some "human uses" have greater potential for harm than others. Target shooting is one of those uses, and those who argue for regulation should not be demonized as antagonistic to everyone else who likes the desert, shore, or woods. With that kind of logic, we'll never be able to get along.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.


Image courtesy the Bureau of Land Management and can be found on page I-18 of Appendix I of the Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement for Ironwood Forest National Monument.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

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