Bill aims to clarify shooting law
The state forester will have the ability to restrict or prohibit shooting to prevent forest fires if S.B. 120, Target Shooting and Wildfire Regulations, sponsored by Senator Margaret Dayton, is approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
"Last year, when it was such a horrible fire season and the cost to the state was excessive, there was a plan to call a special session and give the state forester the power to eliminate target shooting in certain areas of the state for a limited amount of time," Dayton said. "It was decided by the legal counsel that we didn’t need to have a special session, that he could just proceed with that power, which he did. Then there was a discussion that maybe this needs to be clarified in the state statute."
Dayton said she has received very emotional feedback both for and against the bill.
"There has been more for than against it," she said. "I think it’s great when there is legislation that generates so much citizen participation."
Dayton added that the bill isn’t about guns.
"Target shooting isn’t a constitutional right," she said. "I would never run a bill that interferes with the constitutional right to carry, because I am a very pro-gun legislator, as my record indicates."
Last year, target shooting restrictions were implemented in designated areas of Summit County, as well as Utah, Davis and Cache counties.
"It was just in specific areas that were high risk. There were still a number of places in the county where they could shoot their firearms," Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said.
The ban came just weeks after fire restrictions were implemented in Summit County.
"I’ve been here for 10 years, and that was probably the first time we’ve actually restricted shooting," he said. "At least one other time we went into fire danger restrictions but we didn’t go into restricted shootings. But when it’s an extreme risk, and where there is vegetation as dry as it was this past year, we can close areas up here that are at high risk."
Target shooting has been proven to cause fires, he added.
"And then when they start shutting down target shooting in the Salt Lake Valley, we don’t want to have the valley folks coming up to Summit County to shoot and start fires. Then they leave and we end up with the bill," he said.
Few people complained about last year’s fire restrictions, Boyer said.
"I had a few people who were upset that a couple areas were closed. And they drove all the way up here from the valley to shoot, but they couldn’t shoot and had to drive back," he said. "And it’s like, ‘well, I’m sorry, but it was on the http://www.utahfireinfo.gov website with a map and a written description of the areas that were closed. So I’m sorry you drove all the way up but you didn’t check to see if it was going to be an open area.’"
There have been several shooting-caused fires every year throughout the state, Boyer said.
"In the past 10 years, I’ve probably averaged one or two fires a year that have been started by shooting, and a couple others suspected of being caused by shooting," he said. "Up Weber Canyon, I’ve had at least three at homeowners association shooting ranges. There’s been several in Richardson Flat. There’s also been a number over the years that have been started up in the Echo area."
Boyer pointed out that the law doesn’t guarantee there will be a restriction on target shooting.
"The conditions have to be severe enough that it’s going to create a threat or very high risk," he said, then added. "This isn’t to take gun rights away. It’s to lessen the risk in those areas that are higher risk."
The bill passed successfully through two Senate committees but was temporarily removed from the calendar on Feb. 1 by Dayton for amendments before it is reintroduced to the Senate.
"We’re still working on acceptable language for differing points of view," Dayton said. "We want to make sure the gun community, of which I am a member, does not feel threatened by putting power in the hands of the state forester."
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The following cases were heard on Monday, July 6, in 3rd District Court at the Summit County Justice Center.