Legislation proposed in Congress would mandate that each National Forest and Bureau of Land Management district has at least one public recreational shooting range.

The Range Access Act as proposed last week by U.S. Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, aims to build potentially hundreds of new public ranges nationwide. Moore argues the increase is needed to give the record number of first-time gun owners better access to shooting ranges so they can practice their skills. 

"This legislation is an important step in expanding access to recreational shooting practice," said Moore. "Americans from coast to coast love spending time in the outdoors, and expanding our ability to recreate on and enjoy our public lands is one of my core focuses in Congress."

The five-page proposal was introduced as H.R.9183 on Oct. 14. Its language would direct the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Secretaries to ensure that each Bureau of Land Management district and National Forest has a free public shooting range. As BLM controls 245 million acres – or one-tenth of America’s land base – across more than 900 wilderness areas, national monuments, and protected areas in addition to the no less than 154 U.S. National Forests, the expansion could be significant. 

And it would come at a time when additional ranges are needed.

Background checks for likely firearm sales soared to a record 21 million in 2020 and have topped 1 million for the past 38 consecutive months. Surveys point to a sizable portion of these firearms going to new first-time gun owners, including 5 million in 2020 alone. 

Millions of Americans participate in sport shooting, with much of it already done on public land. A recent federal survey estimated there were over 32 million active target shooters in the country, including 3.8 million youth under age 16. Nearly another 12 million are hunters.

Sportsmen had deep pockets when it came to outdoor activities. Out of the nearly $7 billion spent on hunting equipment, almost half, $2.9 billion, went to purchase firearms and another $1.4 billion on ammunition. On average, the typical hunter spent $2,237 on their sport in 2016. The largest portion went to trip-related expenses such as food, lodging, and transport.

The new bill has the support of several conservation and 2A groups including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Boone and Crockett Club, Delta Waterfowl, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Wild Sheep Foundation, Safari Club International, Ducks Unlimited, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The legislation would likewise incentivize more funding under the long-standing Pittman-Robertson act, which supports wildlife conservation efforts. In a nutshell, Pittman-Robertson uses an excise tax on the firearms industry to fund state conservation and hunter safety efforts – to a tune of $1.1 billion last year. The more guns and ammo are sold to the public, the more money goes towards conservation. 

"Recreational shooters provide the bulk of funding to the Pittman-Robertson Act, the lifeblood of state fish and wildlife agencies for hunting and shooting projects, and this legislation recognizes the contributions of target shooters by increasing access opportunities for them to enjoy this time-honored tradition," said Jeff Crane, President and CEO of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.

The Range Access Act has been referred to the House committees on Natural Resources and Agriculture. While the likelihood of action in the Democrat-controlled chamber is unlikely in the coming months, the new 118th Congress, which may have a vastly different polarity, is set to be seated next January. That could see a rebooted Range Access Act with a better chance of success.

Banner image: The McHenry Shooting Facility, a public-use range built by the MDWFP with Pittman-Robertson funds. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)