SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said she is a gun owner who had no intention of interfering with anyone's Second Amendment rights.
So when sparks were poised to fly over her legislative proposal empowering the state forester to restrict target shooting on state-owned lands due to fire danger, she backed off.
Dayton told her colleagues Friday on the floor of the Utah Senate she is not sure her bill, SB120, will be addressed this legislative session because she wants it to get a full airing before the public.
"They deserve a right to have their voices heard, especially those people who oppose the bill," Dayton said afterward. "Gun issues are a touchy subject right now. As a gun owner, I understand that."
Because of the relentless wave of wildfires — some started by target shooting — that burned through thousands of acres of state-owned land last year, State Forester Dick Buehler enacted a host of restrictions last July.
Some of those included bans on types of ammunition, while others shut down target shooting altogether in specific areas of Summit, Davis, Utah and Cache counties.
Because there was some question about the state forester's ability to enact such a ban — pro-gun groups said the move was not only unwarranted but illegal — Dayton sought to have that authority clarified in state law.
The measure had the support of the Utah Sheriffs' Association and the Utah Farm Bureau, but Dayton said there were some gun owners who had concerns about the bill because the prohibitions it placed on target shooting.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said because of the extreme circumstances of last summer, the organization did not push the issue of the ban through bringing legal action.
But Aposhian said the council has some objections to Dayton's measure this year because of how narrowly it focuses on shooting.
"We believe if shooting is to be banned, then other activities should be banned," he said. "If it is that dangerous, we should curtail all outdoor activities in those areas."
Aposhian added that technically under state law, no state entity or county has the legal right to make any restrictions related to the use of firearms unless that authority has been expressly granted by the Utah Legislature.
Municipalities, for example, can restrict the discharge of firearms within city limits, but only because the state gave them the power to do so.
The council also worried about the blanket nature of the bill in that it specified no time frame for review of the restrictions, Aposhian said.
"There needs to be an evaluation on a weekly basis, or at the very most every two weeks," he said.
Aposhian said he plans to talk with Dayton about her bill and trusts that the issue, should it come up again in the future, will be handled appropriately by her.
"She knows what she is doing, and she will hear from all sides," he said. "We are not worried about it. She will make sure to hear from all interested parties, including the state forester and our group."
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