Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Too Many Wildfires Caused by Gun Owners, Says Utah Governor (+Video)

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Too Many Wildfires Caused by Gun Owners, Says Utah Governor (+Video)

Article excerpt

The Dump fire in Utah, touched off by ricocheting bullets sparking dry cheatgrass, became the 20th wildfire this year caused by target shooters. Many states, including Utah, are prevented from imposing emergency gun controls.

Some of the wildfires scorching the West this year were sparked by unusual culprits: Gun owners. Or, more specifically, gun shooters.

As with the Dump fire in Utah, which flared hard enough on Friday to force the evacuation of 1,500 homes and 9,000 people, nearly two dozen conflagrations, officials say, have started accidentally by careless target shooters whose bullet sparks touch off dried-up pinon and wild grasses.

"Now is not a good time to take your gun outside and start shooting in cheat grass that's tinder dry," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday.

While authorities can ban certain fire-related activities when fire risks are high, that's not true with guns, the carrying and use of which are staunchly protected by state and federal law, including several recent Supreme Court decisions.

In Utah, for example, a state law prohibits the state from enacting emergency bans on guns, putting Gov. Herbert in a position of instead asking county governments to issue emergency rules for outdoor gun use as wildfire conditions prevail across the West.

In North Carolina, gun rights activists have successfully fought legal battles to make sure governors can't ban guns during emergencies.

IN PICTURES: Wildfires sweeping the West

Moves to protect gun owners from emergency gun bans is an emerging front in the national debate over gun rights.

In March, a committee in the Colorado legislature killed a proposed bill that would have restricted the state from banning citizen-carry of guns during an emergency. "Common sense dictates that in an emergency situation... guns only make things worse," a witness from the League of Women Voters told Colorado legislators at a hearing.

Recent Supreme Court decisions affirming the right of Americans to arm themselves for protection have played a major role in the changing legal dynamic around the citizenry's ability to access their guns during emergencies.

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. …

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