Bill to expand public shooting ranges moving in Congress

A bipartisan measure in the U.S. Senate that could see the number of shooting ranges available on public land expanded is gaining steam.

The proposal, S.94, was introduced in January by West Virginia Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and currently has 12 co-sponsors from 10 states including three Democrats and an Independent. The bill was reported favorably from the Committee on Environment and Public Works last week, which clears the way for it to be voted on by the full Senate.

Under the current guidelines, states must match federal government funding 25 cents on the dollar to begin working on public shooting ranges administered through local conservation agencies. The bill would drop this formula to 90/10 while also allowing funds to accrue for up to five years to help fund purchase of land for shooting ranges and construction.

As such, it would slightly modify the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. This 80-year-old law uses an excise tax levied on all firearms and ammunition sold or imported into the country to perform conservation-related tasks as varied as restoring elk habitat to funding safety programs and establishing public shooting ranges. Paid for by manufacturers and producers, the fund has been pushed into overdrive in recent years because of a spike in gun and ammunition sales.

“Providing states more flexibility to develop shooting ranges gives sportsmen new opportunities for target practice and boosts the outdoor recreation economy,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who is helping to co-sponsor the bill.

The move is backed by gun rights organizations like the National Rifle Association and firearms trade groups such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“This is crucial legislation that would provide state fish and game agencies more flexibility to use Pittman-Robertson excise taxes dollars raised from the sale of firearms and ammunition to enhance existing public shooting ranges and to build new ones to meet the growing need for additional places for target shooters to participate in their sport,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel. “Public shooting ranges provide hunters a place to sight in rifles and shotguns before hunting seasons, for people to take firearm safety and hunter education courses and, for recreational target shooters to enjoy their sport.”

A similar bill, H.R.788, passed out of committee during the last session but never came up for a floor vote.

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