Gun owners who have historically been able to
use public lands for target practice would be
barred from potentially millions of acres under
new rules drafted by the Interior Department,
the first major move by the Obama administration
to impose limits on firearms.
Officials say the administration is concerned
about the potential clash between gun owners and
encroaching urban populations who like to use
same land for hiking and dog walking.
"It's not so much a safety issue. It's a social
conflict issue," said Frank Jenks, a natural
resource specialist with Interior's Bureau of
Land Management, which oversees 245 million
acres. He adds that urbanites "freak out" when
they hear shooting on public lands.
If the draft policy is finally approved, some
public access to Bureau lands to hunters would
also be limited, potentially reducing areas
deer, elk, and bear hunters can use in the West.
Conservationists and hunting groups, however,
are mounting a fight. One elite group of
conservationists that advises Interior and
Agriculture is already pushing BLM to junk the
regulations, claiming that shooters are being
held to a much higher safety standard than other
users of public lands, such as ATV riders.
"They are just trying to make it so difficult
for recreational shooters," said Gary Kania,
vice president of the Congressional Sportsmen's
Foundation. His group is one of several,
including the National Wildlife Foundation,
Cabela's and Ducks Unlimited, on the Wildlife
and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council
fighting the new rules. During a two-day meeting
ending this afternoon, they are drafting their
own changes to the BLM rules.
"What we probably are going to be looking
forward to is a reversal," said Kania. Asked
about how to handle people who freak out when
they hear shots on public lands, Kania said, "I
don't know how to quantify 'freaking out,'" and
noted that he's seen people panicking when fly
fishing in float tubes but nobody wants to ban
then from rivers.