Temperatures pushing 100. Dry winds. Vegetation parched after an arid winter and record-setting spring heat. Add the stupidity of some humans, and you have a recipe for a wildfire season with horrific potential for destruction.
State and federal officials have outlawed fires and fireworks on all public land and unincorporated private land. A long list of municipalities have also banned those activities. But officials can do nothing to prevent irresponsible hotshots from putting all Utahns at risk by firing guns out in the brush. Target shooters sparked a blaze near Saratoga Springs that has sent 2,500 residents fleeing from their homes and so far has scorched 5,600 acres. Five hundred firefighters are still battling that fire. It is the 20th this year caused by firearms use.
Conservative Utah legislators, in their usual frenzy to protect the all-important right to keep and shoot guns, have dictated that no state officials other than themselves can "enact or enforce any ordinance, regulation or rule pertaining to firearms." Cities can, and should, limit shooting to approved ranges. Provo has limited shooting to indoor ranges.
But the folly of the law prohibiting agencies such as the State Division of Forestry from imposing limits is already evident. In this dangerously dry year, shooter-caused fires have already reached the total for all of 2010.
Some types of bullets and targets are more apt to spark fires than others, but no shooting is safe. Sparks from bullets ricocheting off rocks or metal are capable of starting a blaze. Tracer rounds and exploding targets are especially dangerous. The best way to ensure your shot won't spark a wildfire is to limit target shooting to developed, supervised ranges.
Dry grass and other vegetation, which covers the hills, forests and open spaces across the state and burns at 500 degrees, is as flammable this year as it has ever been. Officials at the State Division of Forestry are talking with legislators and attorneys to find a way to limit shooting in the Beehive State's tinder-dry outdoors. The Utah Shooting Sports Council, to its credit, has sent an email message to its members asking that they be cautious using firearms in the outdoors.
But, unless lawmakers take the unlikely step of amending the law, Utahns will have to rely on the common sense of gun owners. And, while most target-shooters use good judgment, it is a frightening prospect to be at their mercy. Responsible shooters should get the word out that this is not a time to exert their right to shoot at targets anywhere, any time.
Lives and property are at stake.
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