Despite opposition from gun rights advocates, Sen. Margaret Dayton pressed ahead Thursday with her bill that would restrict target shooters on land where hazardous fire conditions exist.
The Orem Republican sponsored SB120 — which would give the state forester the authority to close off areas for target shooting in consultation with locally elected sheriffs — and at one point had felt it was so non-controversial, she had considered putting it on the consent calendar.
But she got emails and phone calls and ran into a roadblock with Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian. Dayton, who boasts of a pro-gun voting record, said it was a rare moment where she split company with the powerful gun lobby at the Capitol.
She decided to hold the bill last week to try to iron out the differences, but the two sides couldn’t forge a compromise. Aposhian didn’t attend Dayton’s press event Thursday.
"He did not agree to this," Dayton said. "We didn’t ask the gun community to be present today. But we feel by working with Representative Curt Oda and the Sheriffs’ Association, we can help people understand these are intense efforts to protect Second Amendment rights."
Aposhian said he wanted the bill to restrict access to everyone — not just target shooters.
"If it restricts gun owners from going there, then it should also restrict bird watchers," he said. "It has to be closed to everybody."
Oda, a Clearfield Republican, stood in support of Dayton’s measure and used the opportunity to thump the federal government for not allowing sufficient logging and grazing on public lands — decisions that he and Utah State Forester Dick Buehler said contributed to making several wildfires far worse than they should’ve been.
Last year, Buehler said, Utah had 1,528 fires — 50 percent of which were caused by people. He said 33 wildfires were directly tied to target shooting. And he said the state forked over $16 million to extinguish the fires.
Dayton said it was "interesting" for her to be carrying SB120 but, in the end, she felt she needed to move ahead on assisting the state in trying to curtail blazes while Utah struggles with drought-like conditions.
She acknowledged there was extra sensitivity to gun legislation following the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., and a push by President Barack Obama to reinstate the assault weapons ban, initiate tougher background checks on firearms purchases and limit the number of rounds in a magazine.
"This does not prohibit a person from legally possessing a firearm or lawfully participating in a hunt," she said. "So it doesn’t interfere with people’s conceal carry rights. It just gives the state forester, working with the sheriff — who is duly elected — some opportunity to work to avoid other causes of fires in certain areas during certain times."
Dayton said SB120 works in conjunction with another bill she’s carrying, SB62, which grants the governor the authority to tap private water sources when fighting a wildfire. Buehler said, however, any private water accessed would result in either compensation or replacement.
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