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Forest Service vs. Gun Owners?

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The number of guns in the United States roughly equals the population. Gun owners have raised billions for wildlife conservation and public lands by paying a 10 percent tax on all gun and ammunition purchases. No other recreational community not rafters, skiers, hikers, bikers or climbers pays a special tax that helps support public lands and conservation.

People who own guns reasonably desire to use them. The right to own and use guns has no less protection than the right to speak. Civil war could not disarm this country.

Yet, for some reason the United States Forest Service has little time for recreational shooters. The agency takes extraordinary measures to facilitate hikers, campers, mountain bikers and other recreationists. It maintains facilities for them and cleans up their trash. The agency has allowed clear-cutting in order to facilitate skiers, even though skiers kill and maim themselves and others when things go wrong.

We applaud the Forest Service for facilitating a variety of dangerous and otherwise burdensome activities. The forests belong to the people who pay for them especially gun owners, who pay more than their share for conservation.

What we do not applaud is the agency’s efforts to shut out gun owners, setting them up to appear as a collective menace to everyone else while enjoying the money they generate though taxes established by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. The service has shut down the only two public ranges in El Paso County, Colorado’s most populous county and the county with the second-highest per capita gun ownership in Colorado.

A Sunday feature in the Colorado Springs Gazette reiterated the government’s worn out complaint about trash and unsafe shooting at the former ranges. The ranges became eyesores, as would any facility the forest service refused to maintain.

Closure of the last shooting range in the Pike National Forest came as a direct consequence of a fatal shooting in 2009, which resulted from on young man’s alleged mishandling of a weapon that malfunctioned. It was the first and only fatal incident at either Pike National Forest range, which makes shooting the undisputed safest recreational activity in the forest. Hiking, biking, climbing, rafting and skiing deaths are many times more common. If they closed a ski slope each time a careless skier hurt or killed someone on property owned by the National Forest Service, there would be no place left to ski. Each summer people die while riding white water rapids through national forests, yet the Forest Service has never chosen to close the rivers and ban rubber rafts or kayaks.

Could it be that Forest Service officials simply do not like guns?

As a result of closing the ranges, shooters have taken up shooting wherever they please in the forests. It is chaos. Hikers and bikers fear stray bullets from the guns of morons. Imbeciles shoot at trees and leave trash on the ground. Responsible shooters stay away, while federal officials besmirch the reputations of all shooters with pictures and stories of recreational shooters indulging in anarchy that forest officials created.

Forest officials cannot stop recreational shooting by neglecting to facilitate it. By closing ranges they have unleashed decentralized mayhem. They almost certainly knew this would be the outcome. In communities without sidewalks, humans walk on streets and on lawns. In towns without baseball fields, kids play ball in the streets. Stick a no-trespassing sign on the on an attractive nuisance, such as the Manitou Incline which crosses into the Pike National Forest, and hikers will ignore it to satiate a desire. Set an unreasonable speed limit, to save lives, and the masses will violate it with willful disregard. Humans will engage in reasonable activities whether governments facilitate them or not. That’s why social engineering typically fails to produce the desired results.

Most gun owners would prefer to use regulated, approved, well-maintained ranges. That means the forest service had best rethink, reallocate and re-prioritize in order to open, manage and maintain at least one shooting range in each national forest. Neglecting gun owners won’t make them disappear.

Article by Wayne Laugesen


Wayne Laugesen, a former Soldier of Fortune editor, is the editorial pages editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, where a version of this article first appeared and is re-printed with permission. E-mail the author at: Wayne.Laugesen@Laugesen.com