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Some gun enthusiasts are unhappy that they are being targeted for restrictions on ammunition and shooting and hope the state is judicious in exercising its power.
A relatively small number of wildfires sparked by shooters shouldn't justify sweeping bans on firearms across counties, said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council.
"We do get defensive, you bet we do," he said Tuesday. "It's not a free-for-all against shooters because we 'own' technically less than 5 percent of the problem."
Obviously, conditions across a parched state demand that shooters take precautions, he said, but the state would be better off with a major awareness push to educate all Utahns about the dangers.
Instead, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Monday that his state forester, Dick Buehler, has been authorized to ban target shooting on a county-by-county basis outside of city limits.
Afterward, requests from counties began rolling in. On Tuesday, Buehler expanded an existing ban on explosive targets, tracers and steel-jacketed ammunition anywhere in the state outside of city limits.
Cities have the authority to impose their own restrictions.
Buehler said Cache, Davis and Utah counties have asked him to ban all target shooting in areas where that practice has started fires.
"There may be more coming," he said, "but it may take us a few days to get there."
Aposhian worries that counties will use the fire crisis to crack down on firearms.
"I'm not trying to put up roadblocks ... but I don't think we've exhausted our existing remedies yet," he said. "I think there should be specific requirements and specific consistent policy on what it takes to stop someone from shooting or driving or [starting] campfires or anything, rather than make it subjective, based on counties' whims or wishes."
He said the statute the governor's aides are citing has never been used to restrict firearms, and Aposhian believes that is "because they were uneasy about the interpretation as to whether they had the authority to do it."
Charles Hardy, director of Gun Owners of Utah, sees Herbert's solution as a measured response much better than rushing into a special legislative session and passing restrictions, as initially contemplated.
Stuart Wallin, owner of Get Some Guns and Ammo, said the danger arises when people shoot into rocks with metal-jacketed rounds, kicking up sparks in dry conditions.
Wallin said if Utahns would go to ranges around the state or be cautious about the conditions and what they're shooting, it could alleviate much of the risk.
"The problem is a lot of people aren't using common sense," he said. "And, unfortunately, what does our government do when people don't use common sense? They put restrictions on it."
Herbert has also been under political pressure. His Democratic opponent, retired Gen. Peter Cooke, has called for a statewide ban on fireworks. Herbert and federal land managers have barred fireworks outside city limits, and a slew of municipalities have enacted their own restrictions.
Cooke wants more a blanket ban on private fireworks, similar to the one Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued last month.
"No options can be spared in stopping this critical emergency," Cooke said. "In a time where seconds make the difference between life and death, Herbert has waited weeks to act, inexplicably putting the lives and livelihoods of Utahns at risk."
Cooke contends Herbert has the authority to implement a statewide ban on fireworks under Utah's Disaster Response and Recovery Act, which allows the governor to issue emergency declarations in response to terrorist attacks, acts of war, natural disasters or other disruptions.
Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said that even assuming the law granted the authority to impose a statewide ban the governor's approach respects local leaders, who are best equipped to adapt to conditions on the ground.
"The governor has authority to declare a state of emergency, impose a police state and usurp local control," she said, "but that is generally reserved for events like nuclear holocaust or cataclysmic natural disasters."
Even in those instances, the governor's orders last 30 days or until the Legislature can convene to respond.
Tom Mills, a landscape photographer and South Salt Lake resident, started an online petition urging the governor to implement a statewide ban. Since he launched it nearly a week ago through a website affiliated with the group MoveOn.org, he has racked up more than 6,000 signatures.
"Some people are looking at me as Scrooge trying to ruin fireworks for kids. But for me this is a no-brainer: Amusement and pleasure and a celebratory thing that's temporary … versus thousands of acres being burned and homes being lost," he said. "I would imagine every Utah citizen would be happy to sacrifice fireworks this year just so we can save our state from burning."
What does Utah law say?
To limit target shooting, Gov. Gary Herbert is using the following statute (65A-8-212):
"(1) (a) If the state forester finds conditions in a given area in the state to be extremely hazardous, he shall close those areas to any forms of use by the public, or to limit that use.
• "(b) The closure shall include the prohibition of open fires for the period of time he finds necessary.
"(2) Nothing in this chapter prohibits any resident within the area from full and free access to his home or property, or any legitimate use by the owner or lessee of the property.
"(3) The order or proclamation closing or limiting the use in the area shall set forth:
• "(a) the exact area coming under the order;
• "(b) the date when the order becomes effective; and
• "(c) if advisable, the authority from whom permits for entry into the area may be obtained.
"(4) Any entry into or use of any area in violation of this section is a class B misdemeanor."