Proposed gun legislation hits target

Gun owners have been shafted for years, and a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday stands to change things for the better.

Hunters, recreational shooters and other gun owners pay an 11 percent excise tax, established under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, on ammunition and other hunting and shooting equipment. It generates more than $700 million each year that is supposed to establish, restore and protect wildlife habitats and provide for hunter education. That means gun owners pay a tremendous amount toward maintaining and improving public lands, such as our national forests and properties governed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Bikers, hikers and other enjoy these lands and benefit from taxes that are paid only by shooters.

So how does the federal government repay the gun owners? By shutting down shooting ranges in national forests with every excuse they can find. Federal authorities claim the ranges are dangerous, even though they are statistically far safer than all other recreation facilities in the forests. They claim the ranges are poorly maintained, which results from willful neglect by the National Forest Service. When asked to reopen and provide reasonable oversight and maintenance of the ranges, National Forest Service officials claim poverty.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has worked to help peacefully resolve issues between the Forest Service and gun owners.

In June he introduced SB1249, known as the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act. Udall hopes the bill will get a hearing in the Environment and Public Works Committee. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on Friday.

The Udall-inspired bills would amend the Pittman-Robertson Act to allow proceeds of the tax to fund up to 90 percent of expanding or constructing shooting ranges on federal or nonfederal land. The law allows Pittman-Robertson to pay for 75 percent of a shooting range, but all funds allocated to a state must be spent in one fiscal year. The amendment would allow funds to accrue for five years, facilitating the development of a substantial pool to fund gun range expansion and construction.
Well-maintained public shooting ranges would promote responsible gun ownership and enjoyment of the outdoors, which are part of our New Mexico’s heritage.

An aide to Sen. Udall said he has reason to believe that President Barack Obama will sign the bill into law if it makes it through the House and Senate. If the bill passes before the 2012 election, while Obama is trying to build broad-based support, the aide is probably correct.

Today, Congress is rightly obsessed with trying to resolve our government’s debt crisis to free our economy to once again thrive. That means getting others in Congress to pay attention to these bills could be difficult. While the economy is most important, other aspects of life go on.

Guns, gun owners and gun rights — which necessitate practice ranges — are essential to maintaining freedom and prosperity in the United States. Let’s help get this done.