Smoke and flames are seen over homes as the Dump Fire burns near Saratoga Springs on Friday, June 22, 2012. JIM MCAULEY/Daily Herald
Last June 21, target shooters ignited a wildfire near Saratoga Springs that burned 5,507 acres and cost $2.1 million to fight, and resulted in the evacuation of 9,000 residents from their homes. More than 20 Utah wildfires are started by irresponsible target shooters every year.
Why is target shooting causing wildfires? Don’t firearms enthusiasts go to firing ranges where safety precautions are the first priority? Well… regular firing ranges don’t let you shoot an AR-15 at an exploding star target (video), a Tannerite target, or use tracer or incendiary rounds.
Although Utah is one of the most heavily-armed states in the nation, our state government cannot regulate target shooting. Not even in an emergency, such as last year.
Utah code 76-10-500, passed in 1999, states: “Unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute, a local authority or state entity may not enact or enforce any ordinance, regulation, or rule pertaining to firearms.” A 2004 law contains similar phrasing.
It seemed like a simple fix for Utah State Senator Margaret Dayton (R-Orem), and State Rep. Curt Oda (R-Clearfield) to introduce SB120, a bill to allow the state forester to restrict target shooting when it would create a high risk of wildfires. It sailed through committee, and Dayton said she has the votes to pass it. But then the gun nuts went ballistic. As the Senate started to debate the measure Friday, Dayton pulled it and told senators that she may not bring it up again.
Once again, it appears that a common-sense measure with majority support cannot withstand the fury of the gun fanatics. Most likely, our state will remain powerless to stop preventable wildfire emergencies caused by yahoos with assault rifles.
The two men charged with starting Saratoga Springs’ Dump Fire in June have pleaded no contest to reduced charges.
Idaho resident Kenneth Nielsen, 37, and Jeffrey Conant, 42, of Washington state, were originally charged in 4th District Court with reckless burning, a class A misdemeanor, and using prohibited targets, a class B misdemeanor.
… the pleas were part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop the reckless burning charges, and won’t request jail time at sentencing.
The two men each agreed to pay $5,000 in restitution.
Charging documents state that Nielsen and Conant were target shooting near Saratoga Springs at 11:30 a.m. on June 21, when an explosive target ignited dry weeds and spread to burn the mountainside, court documents state.
Fire investigators discovered packaging linked to an explosive target the men used during their shooting session. A fingerprint on the packaging was traced to Nielsen, court documents state.