Senator Margaret Dayton and Representative Curt Oda, the Senate and House sponsors of SB120 held a press conference to announce that they have come up with compromise language that will allow the bill to move forward.
They were accompanied by State Forester Dick Buehler and Summit County Sheriff David Edmunds. No gun rights organizations were present in spite of the fact that the announced changes appear to have incorporated a number of GOUtah’s suggestions.
As originally drafted, SB120 gives the State Forester authority to restrict target shooting in areas where hazardous conditions exist. The bill ran into trouble with gun rights organizations after passing a Senate committee.
Dayton announced that the bill would be amended before moving forward. Rather than giving the State Forester, an unelected official, full power to close an area to target shooting, the amended bill will require that the forester work with appropriate county sheriffs when imposing restrictions. In addition, once imposed restrictions will have to be reviewed every two weeks.
While banning target shooting, restrictions will not affect the ability to carry concealed or other firearms in the area.
A state website will let people know where target shooting restrictions exist at any given time.
Under the bill, persons target shooting in an area that has been closed will be subject to a class B misdemeanor. They may also be held responsible for fire suppression costs should they cause a fire. This can run into the millions of dollars.
According to Oda, the bill will actually help target shooters avoid the costs that they can incur by accidently starting a fire.
During her statement, Dayton emphasized that the major contributor to forest fires in Utah was the mismanagement of forest lands by the federal government. She noted that the federal government had failed to honor the commitment made at the time of statehood to divest itself of these lands.
Dayton said that fires on federal lands impact all Utahns through degraded air quality, damage to state trust lands which support public education and the overall impact on the people of Utah.
Target shooting only accounts for a small percentage of all fires started in Utah. Of more than 1,500 fires last year, 33 were started by target shooters.
Other bills opening up taxpayer funded shooting ranges are pending in the legislature which if passed would take some of the pressure off of the public lands. However, these bills are facing stiff opposition from the taxpayer funded entities that own these ranges and public employees who use these restricted access ranges.
Photos were shown to demonstrate how grazing and the proper management of timber resources contribute to controlling and stopping forest fires.
The state bar association is reviewing the bill to ensure that it complies with the constitution and it is anticipated that the revised bill will be brought to the floor of the Senate next week.