Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Puzzling Paradox, or Why There are No Places Left for Shooters

LONG POST WARNING!!! I sadly note that the United States Forest Service is actively continuing their antigun program for shutting down shooting on public lands in the West. After last year's successful redefinition of a "road, active or inactive" as an "occupied area," which allowed Rangers to shut down many of the most popular shooting areas by invoking the federal law that prohibits shooting within 150 yards of an "occupied area," the newest antigun initiative is that old stand-by, littering.

You can check out all the details on the FreedomSight blog, but here's a sample, from a local newspaper:
The U.S. Forest Service, in the form of Boulder Ranger Christine Walsh, is considering changes to how and where recreational shooting is permitted on the 160,000 acres of Arapaho- Roosevelt National Forest she’s charged with managing. And faced with increasing numbers of people driving to the forest to hike, bike, drive and shoot, a total ban on recreational shooting is now on the table.

Hunting would not be affected regardless of the decision.

“We are going to make a decision about what parts of the district are appropriate for recreational shooting and which ones are not,” Walsh said Thursday. “We don’t have our minds made up.”

Among the options being considered are a total ban; creation of a formal, managed shooting range; or no changes. Walsh is calling a series of public meetings over the next few months to gather input from as many people as possible, seeking solutions she and her staff may not have considered.
As you may remember from last year, Ms. Walsh is a committed antigun activist who has turned the USFS into a tool for gun-banners. Last year's push — the redefinition of "occupied areas" — successfully shut down my "home range," which had been a shooting area for more than 50 years and which, to the best of my knowledge, had no problems to speak of.

As is normal with antigun activists, the USFS office did not tell the same story twice to the politicans and media who called about the story. Senator Wayne Allard's office, for example, was told that my range wasn't closed because of the redefinition (although that's what the posted signs say), but rather because there was a "subdivision going up across the street." I drove up to the range and looked...there is private forest land across the street. I live in a rural area...there aren't any subdivisions per se. USFS officals told other politicans that the range wasn't closed because of the "subdivision" OR the redefinition, but because a natural gas pipeline is close by. Well, that's true...the pipeline is next to the road, where it is at risk...from bad drivers. Other callers were told there were "complaints, " although nobody could provide the specifics of such complaints.

Let's be clear about something — the goal here is nothing less than the complete elimination of shooting on public lands. This will have a profound effect on not just current shooters, but on upcoming new shooters...because there won't be any. Because of the huge amount of public land in the West, a public shooting range system never developed. The West is full of private ranges, most with a year to (honet-to-goodness) 27-year wait!

For example, I'm trying to get back into the Clear Creek range, which at various times I've been a member. I've been on the list for 14 months and no end in sight. Plus, the Clear Creek range itself is facing huge lease cost increases (see below).

The West, along with the South, has been a huge "buffer zone" against really successful antigun programs. In the West, guns are a given, an accepted part of the landscape. Hunting is one of the largest industries in the Rocky Mountain West. But what if there's no longer anyplace to shoot? Or if the closest public range is 2-3 hours away? What are the implications for the next generation of shooters, or the generation after that?

Couple that with Wal-Mart's decision to stop selling guns in 1/3 of their stores...if you don't sell guns, do you have to carry cleaning gear, ammunition, etc.? Wal-Mart says it was strictly a business decision...they need the floor space. Off the record, at least one major competitor of Wal-Mart is set to follow their lead.

So now there's no place to shoot and ammunition and gear are available only from specialty gun stores. What do you suppose that does to us in the short and long run?

Welcome to the perfect storm scenario...

Let's talk about littering at shooting areas. Yes, there is some, and it sucks. But the real question is who is doing the "littering and why are they not being punished?"

I have spent a lot of time on informal shooting ranges, and I have never once seen a shooter unload a cheap washing machine, a truckload of building wastes or chunks of industrial machinery on the range. So where does that stuff come from? In truth, I don't know, but I do know that my local paper lists a dozen $25 a load "Will Haul" services...hmmmmm.

It is an article of faith in the gun culture that we don't need any more gun laws because we already have sufficient laws to PUNISH THE PEOPLE WHO DO THE CRIME. Yet when it comes to trashing shooting areas, we lower our head, agree that a few "bad eggs" ruin it for the rest of us and promise to do better. Folks, shooters have been cleaning up trashed areas for decades...so far, all we've done is provide a convenient service for illegal dumpers!

Why are we not DEMANDING that the USFS, which as near as I can tell spends their time passing out parking tickets and bleating about how hard their jobs are, ENFORCE THE EXISTING LAWS AGAINST ILLEGAL DUMPING instead of shutting down shooting areas...which will have zero effect on the illegal dumping because shooting is not the problem.

Think about this, folks...a government agency is cracking down on shooters because someone is dumping crap illegally. Does this make sense? Yeah, about as much sense as cracking down on jaywalking to stem an increase in shoplifting. The ONLY way it makes sense is if your true goal is to eliminate all shooting on public lands. Raise the illegal dumping fine to $10,000 an occurance and have a couple of illegal dumpers do the perp walk...think that might have an effect?

Do shooters shoot up the junk dumped on the range? Unfortunately, yes. But there is a solution for this problem as well — if USFS will allow us to do it. A lot of you are probably familiar with the "broken windows" policing concept, most notably used in NYC. "Broken windows" simply says that small crimes such as grafitti can lead to larger more dangerous crimes because the message of ignored small crimes is that no one cares. Okay, a gross symplification...you can read all you ever wanted to know here.

The application to shooting ranges is apparent (to everyone except the USFS, apparently) — if a place looks like a dump, people will treat it like a dump.

The solution is to keep informal shooting areas from looking like a dump.

Obviously, Step 1 is STRICT enforcement of illegal dumping laws.

Step 2 — fix up the ranges — is also obvious. What is not so obvious is that the USFS is absolutely against any such action because it flies in the face of their antigun initiative! My shooting partner and I approached USFS with a plan to clean and grade the range we shot on, cut the berms cleanly, create signeage to show shooters where and how they needed to shoot, cautioning them to clean up after themselves, etc.; sink steel posts with eyebolts and provide cords so shooters would have a place to hang targets (a BIG BIG issue), etc...all out of our own pockets.

The USFS was NO NO NO NO NO, and if any of those things happened, we'd be cited and fined. In fact, USFS said there was no provision for groups to improve or change USFS property, even though the large mountain biking, equestrian and off-roader vehicle groups have Memoranda of Understanding with the USFS that allows these groups to build and modify trails, etc. — do all the things we would like to do, except...

...it appears that USFS has special rules for shooters...

So what happens if we clean up our ranges?

NOTHING, because USFS is running what I refer to as a "rolling campaign" — there's another "critical problem" about shooting on public lands right behind this one, just like how littering followed the 150-yard issue. Note how USFS talks about "pristine wildernesses;" then also note that USFS turned some of the former shooting areas over to the off-road vehicle people, who proceeded to turn the "pristine wildernesses" into something resembling a moonscape.

The advantage of a "rolling campaign" (and I've done them myself) is that it forces your enemy to keep marshaling his forces against a specific issue that you don't care about. Then, when your enemy assembles the facts, figures, charts and graphs, PowerPoint presentations, etc., you ignore them and move on to the next issue, which I'm willing to bet will be those unspecified "complaints," "confrontations" between shooters and bikers/hikers/whatever and noise. Or this, from Jeff Monroe, a Front Range shooter:
Michael, I would like you to know that you could not be more correct in your statement that the USFS is closing all shooting ranges down FAST in the state on USFS land. I am a life member of the NRA, CSSA and the Buffalo Creek Gun Club. Last year our 40-year-old lease increased from $200 annually to over $6000 annually. We were told this was due to the fact that the budget for the forest service had been cut in half. Then we were told that the forest service is using the FLPMA act of 1976 as guide to charge us some 3% per acre per annum of current market value for our 46 acre 600 yard range. Today, we are almost bankrupt...I soon will have NO place to go to shoot.
So we get all excited, spend a huge amount of time "proving" that USFS is wrong only to find that USFS has moved on to the next issue.

The ONLY way to stop a rolling campaign is to attack the root issue, what the campaign is really designed to do! And you have to cut the snake's head off, from the top.

Okay, I've gone on too long. I personally think USFS is going to win this one while we're running around trying to convince people that we're the good shooters versus those messy old bad shooters, or that we're the good hunters versus those bad old target shooters...Sarah Brady must be busting her sides laughing at how, like Charlie Brown and the football, we fall for the same old trick over and over again.

We are enormously powerful when we choose to be — it took 8 DAYS from the time I broke the story on BATFE moves against custom gunsmiths until legislation was introduced to solve the problem. Eight days! How much more important is it that we have places to shoot, yet we're allowing ourselves to be led around by a hoop through our noses.

Sorry for the long post.


Anonymous said...

To combat the closing of big store gun shops, perhaps a mail order system for firearms should be established.

Anonymous said...

Crap, I meant to continue that post.

The U.S. Post Office will probably have to handle it to gain acceptance from fence-sitters and because the USPS probably already has all the abilities to check residency status and confirm shipments.

I believe the USPS already handles money orders and they will actually check the goods being shipped to confirm their authenticity and whatnot. (I heard this was a good thing to use with eBay.) So, securely shipping firearms shouldn't be that difficult for them.

As an additional bonus, messing with the postal system is automatically a felony, and this fact could help convince fence-sitters to accept such a proposal.

Anonymous said...

Give me a number to call or an address where I can complain.

Anonymous said...

Why should we believe these people when they say they have no plans to ban hunting on national forest land? As I see it they can use the same line of "reasoning" to prohibit hunting.

Anonymous said...

I agree - USFS is anti-gun, and they're trying to shut down shooting areas - and ultimately ban hunting as well.


Those of you who live in the West are a bit spoiled, in my opinion. Here in the area of Florida where I live, I have only four choices of shooting ranges to use - all of which are private, all of which are extrememly restrictive (what you can shoot, what you can't, how fast, how many freakin' rounds you can load (ONE!), and it just gets worse), and quite expensive. Try $20 per hour, folks. And that's the cheapest range.

Sure, I could drive three counties away and use a decent range, but that's three hours each way - with the attendant cost of gasoline, wear and tear on the car, and of course, the time involved. Have to basically make a day of it to get your money's worth.

So, you got a place to shoot right by where you live, where you pay nothing (or almost nothing), can shoot whatever you want however you want, and you're not fighting like hell to keep it? You're not out there every week practicing, at a minimum? You're not making sure the place is cleaned up, either as you leave or weekly? You're not putting time and maybe some money into its upkeep and making sure it continues to exist? SHAME ON YOU!

As far as I'm concerned, if you're one of these people who are not doing what they can to defend and take care of such a great local range area, you have no business shooting there, or anywhere for that matter. Sell or give your firearms away to those of us who will care for them and feed them regularly, and take up stamp collecting or something.

I WISH I had a informal range right by my house that I could go to weekly (or more often), for little or no cost except for ammo. Hell, I'd PAY $200 a year for something like that! But, I'll never see it around here now, the area's too built up and property values are too high (way too high - to the point average people can't afford to live here anymore - but that's another rant).

If you're not helping in this situation, SHAME ON YOU! Stop helping the anti's with your apathy, and start being part of the solution.

BigBlk said...

"The West" is a big place, and there are lots of public lands in the West. This is something that demands attention on a national scale. Is the NRA aware of what's going on here? I'm not claiming that the NRA is the end-all-be-all, but for a problem with such a large scope, it seems they may be the only ones with enough clout to address the issue and be taken seriously. The BATFE's narrow interpretation of gun "manufacturing" and the eventual solution required the attention of the NRA, and it seems to me this new issue is something they can't afford to ignore. After all, no shooters = no NRA.

Michael Bane said...

FWIW, I lived in Florida, helped get IPSC shooting up and going in that state and am intimately aware of the shooting situation in that state.

That's one of the very big reasons I moved out here.

And please keep in mind that this is a NATIONAL problem — gun groups have been cleaning up shooting areas out here forever, and the shooting areas represent only a tiny part of the public lands.

By the time I tried to move to solution to the root cuases of the problem, the USFS shut me down hard.

A federal agency campaign this large and this visible CANNOT be run locally or regionally...it has to be sanctioned from the top. For example, last summer brand spanking newly minted POSTED: NO SHOOTING WITHIN 150 YARDS OF OCCUPIED AREA went up simultaneously across the West. Think that a local range can request massive signeage on his or her own?

Last year, Dave Workman from the Second Amendment Foundation got an undersecretary of agriculture to say that shooters was an accepted shared use of the outdoor resource. That's whent he campaign shifted to "litter" as the critical problem.

I've talked to Wayne LaPierre, and I'll be talking to him more in mid-May at the Congressional Sportsman Foundation shoot. I'll also meet with CSF honchos. Bob Brown of SOF, who sits on the NRA BoD and lives in Boulder, is also hopping mad about this.

The problme is, Bob and I — both known agitators — are pretty much out here all by ourselves. Initially, USFS made no distinction between "shooters" and "hunters" — remember, USFS has instructed their "rangers" NOT to approach "anyone with a gun," because we're all crazy apparently.

However, when it looked like the sleeping Colorado State Shooting Association might accidently wake up, USFS quickly reassured the hunters that they weren't included, and CSSA quickly went right back to sleep. CSSA is a powerful lobby who last year went TO THE MATRESSES to strike down a tiny increase in the taxes a local hunter might have to pay. So far, they have not even weighed in on USFS' actions! The last issue of their slick magazine focused on much more critical issues, such as how to choose an Alaskan hunting guide...

Talk about TITS ON A BOAR worthless!

I'm focusing all my efforts on the NRA and the politicians I'll be talking to in May.

Unless the shooters of the Front Range start pullng together, USFS is going to score an uncontested victory...and the reason they're doing it here is that this is the most liberal area of the Rocky Mt. West...you WILL be seeing this in your home area!

And, OF COURSE USFS is anti-hunting! Divide and conquor, Little Grasshopper!


Anonymous said...

Every national park should have a public shooting range. No questiona asked.
As far as some sort of mail order gun sales. before the stupid damned 68 gun act you could buy long guns threw the Mail, NO 4473's No background checks.

Michael I dont think a Hell of lot of the NRA any more. After the damned Brady Bill stunt I quit the organization and will continue to stay away till they stop playing games.
The Brady Bill was DOA in the US senate till the NRA pulled their opposition to the Bill coming to floor for a vote.
The NRA also supported the 68 gun act, even Heston in a radio interview said that looking back supporting the 68 act wa WRONG! So why isnt the NRA working for its Repeal?
Michael do you have any idea how many guns have been purchased threw the mail? Most of the guns in my entire family were mail order guns. Since 1968 we have purchased less than 10 guns in my family as a hole and yet my family may own 300 guns. NO BAFT, NO Background Checks and NO BATF

Anonymous said...

The persons you need to target are the district rangers.

They are appointees, and can be replaced by the secretary of agriculture.

The distric ranger is the one who creates and impliments all this crap, and is the one who can decide to work with shooting clubs if they wish to do so.

Anonymous said...

15 years ago the USFS closed the Tucson Rod and Gun Club. A very well developed range, on trumped up safety charges. After many meetings where the charges were shown to be BS the range is still closed as far as I know (I don't live there anymore). The point is this has been going on a long time,The USFS is not a freind to shooters.