Are environmentalists’s anti-gun policies to blame for wildfires in the West?

by Chad D. Baus

The headlines have echoed across the country: “Guns blamed for starting wildfires in parched West”

According to the Associated Press, officials believe target shooting or other firearms use sparked at least 21 wildfires in Utah and nearly a dozen in Idaho. Shooting is also believed to have caused fires in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

In Utah, the AP says Republican Gov. Gary Herbert “took the unusual step” of authorizing the top state forest official to impose gun restrictions on public lands after a gunfire-sparked fire.

A gunfire-sparked, you say? How could target shooting start fires? I mean, we’re almost certainly not dealing with flintlock guns here.

The devil is in the details, and an accurate Associated Press headline would read as mine does above:

“Are environmentalists’ anti-gun policies to blame for wildfires in the West?”

From the AP article:

Utah officials believe steel-jacketed bullets are the most likely culprits, given one shot that hits a rock and throws off sparks can ignite surrounding vegetation and quickly spread…The bullets were recently banned on state and federal lands in Utah. Officials are telling sportsmen to use lead bullets that don’t give off sparks when they hit rocks.


What the article doesn’t mention, of course, is that environmental extremists have been attempting to ban the use of lead bullets – the very ones Utah officials now say are preferred – in favor of bullets made of materials such as steel, which is blamed for causing sparks when they impact rocks. Many in the West are avid Second Amendment proponents, so most state lawmakers are hesitant to enact any restrictions for fear of a backlash.

“We’re not trying to pull away anyone’s right to bear arms. I want to emphasize that,” said Louinda Downs, a county commissioner in fire-prone Davis County, Utah. “We’re just saying target practice in winter. Target practice on the gun range.

“When your pleasure hobby is infringing or threatening someone else’s right to have property or life, shouldn’t we be able to somehow have some authority so we can restrict that?” she asked.

For weeks, state officials have said they were powerless to ban gun use because of Second Amendment rights, but legislative leaders say they found an obscure state law that empowers the state forester to act in an emergency. The last high-profile time people’s Second Amendmetn rights were stripped in the name of an emergency, the problem was hurricane-level flooding in Louisiana, not fires.

For his part, Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Sports Shooting Council, told the AP he is skeptical about the placement of blame on target shooters, and estimated that perhaps 5 percent of the wildfires in the state have been caused by target shooters this year. “I don’t know how much of a problem it really is,” he said. Aposhian said his group will conduct tests to determine if the steel-jacketed bullet theory is true. If there are limits, “we want to make sure it is not knee-jerk legislation to ban guns or ammunition,” he said. “If it turns out the problem is with a few types of rounds, we will not be an apologist for them.” There is no need for such tests, Utah state fire marshal Brent Halladay said. With steel bullets, “you might as well just go up there and strike a match,” he said.

And so, yet again, we have to suffer the unintended consequences of extreme environmentalist policies that weren’t based on sound, verifiable data in the first place, just as we are suffering with the whole lead bullet controversy that may very well have caused these fires in the first place.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.