Officials in Utah are saying that “recreational shooters” have caused as many as 20 wildfires so far this year, including the ‘Dump fire,’ which has burned up approximately 6,000 acres and prompted authorities to evacuate 1,500 homes and 9,000 people.
State officials surmise the fires have been started by “careless target shooters whose bullet sparks touch off dried-up pinon [Pinyon pine] and wild grasses,” according to The Christian Monitor.
Claiming that their hands are tied by state pre-emption, which prevent them from instituting any restrictions on one’s Second Amendment rights without the state Legislature’s approval, authorities say all they can do is ask gun owners to wise up and use their heads.
“Now is not a good time to take your gun outside and start shooting in cheat grass that’s tinder dry,” Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday at a press conference.
Many argue that these pro-gun laws have only severed to stoke the flames; they say that instead of asking, state leaders should be mandating compliance with new emergency ordinances that place restrictions on the usage of firearms.
On Friday, The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board said as much, stating “the stupidity of some humans” has created “a recipe for a wildfire season with horrific potential for destruction.”
“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,’ ” the editorial board wrote.
The Tribune added, “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,” – which was 20.
But this reasoning flies right in the face of several recent Supreme Court decisions that affirm the right of citizens to have access to their firearms, particularly during exigent circumstances.
The Supreme Court decisions have flipped “the burden onto the government and legislatures to show why they need to restrict what the court has already said is an individual right,” John Velleco, a spokesman for Gun Owners of American, told the World Net Daily news site.
The fires in Utah appear to be another example of the age-old dilemma, public safety v. individual liberty. That is, to what extent and under what circumstances should individual liberty be curtailed to ensure the safety of the public?
However, before we go down that beaten path once more, Clark Aposhian, the head of Utah’s Shooting Sports Council, offered some sound advice. He told the Daily Herald that officials should pump the brakes until they have more information.
“I need to know more definitively what is to blame for these fires,” he told the Herald, adding that he didn’t condone improper shooting; those caught starting a fire can be charged with recklessness and sued for damages.
That said, if gun owners are solely to blame for the wildfires, what do you think the state leaders should do?
Should the Legislature step in and institute a shooting ban for the remainder of the dry season (until the fall)?
(Pictures courtesy of AP)