Obama Pushing Shooters Off Public Lands

November 16, 2011

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.