Sen. Margaret Dayton is shelving a bill to allow the state forester to temporarily restrict target shooting on certain lands threatened by wildfires, citing opposition from some gun enthusiasts.
Dayton, a National Rifle Association member and gun owner, said the bill has been misunderstood by some and it might not be addressed this legislative session.
The Orem Republican used a procedural move Friday on the Senate floor to put her bill on hold, saying she wants to meet with opponents to see if further clarification could change their minds.
“Right now the gun community is willing to fight any effort they see as taking away their Second Amendment rights,” Dayton said. “You don’t want to go against the communities in which you align yourself.”
Senate leaders expressed concern the bill’s demise could hurt the state’s ability to prevent fires.
Target shooters started more than 20 wildfires in Utah last year, including the 5,507-acre Dump fire near Saratoga Springs in June that caused thousands to flee homes and cost $2.1 million to battle.
In all, more than $50 million was spent fighting wildfires in the state last year.
“Wildfire has become such a huge cost to our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. “Having the tools that are necessary to prevent those wildfires saves the state a lot of money.”
Last year, State Forester Dick Buehler imposed restrictions on target shooting in some areas of Utah because of the fire danger. Dayton sought to have that authority clarified in state law after pro-gun groups said the move was not only unwarranted but illegal.
The measure drew the support of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association and Utah Farm Bureau, but Dayton said some gun owners had concerns because of the prohibitions the bill placed on target shooting.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said his group has some objections to Dayton’s measure because of how narrowly it focuses on shooting.
“We believe if shooting is banned, then other activities should be banned,” he said. “If it is that dangerous, we should curtail all outdoor activities in those areas.”
The council also is concerned that the bill specified no time frame for review of shooting restrictions, Aposhian said.
“There needs to be an evaluation on a weekly basis or at the very most every two weeks,” he said, adding he would talk with Dayton about the measure.