In 2009, we argued that the county needed a multifaceted solution to the problem of reckless and illegal shooting in our wild places. This should involve a public shooting range, designated outdoor shooting areas, a crackdown on dangerous shooting practices, and an outreach campaign to better educate shooters on proper safety and cleanup.
Last week, Tooele County commissioners took a good first step toward those goals by banning the use of exploding targets and other targets that shatter on public lands in the county. These exploding targets, used improperly, are a proven fire hazard. They sparked several large blazes last year alone, including a fire in the Lakeside Mountains that burned 12,000 acres last July. They can also be a safety hazard and an environmental threat, since the practice of placing exploding targets inside discarded items such as television sets leaves debris strewn across the desert.
We like another aspect of the ordinance commissioners passed last week: It protects our Tooele County lands by taking a stand against the rest of the state. After all, exploding targets are not only perfectly legal in Utah, they’re also extremely popular with the many of the urban shooters who come out to the west desert. It’s likely any attempt to ban them on a statewide level would be met with considerable political opposition. And yet, commissioners took this step in defiance of that — which takes guts.
Still, much remains to be done to cleanup the reckless shooting problem in the county. Too many people continue shooting in dangerous areas near roads and campgrounds, and too many popular shooting sites are littered with fragmented rubbish along with spent shells and cartridges.
Law enforcement could help commissioners efforts by getting as tough on reckless shooting as they do on problems like DUI — no more polite chats, just citations issued. The aforementioned outreach program would help here too, since fewer people could plead ignorance of the law if the issue was better publicized. Next, commissioners and BLM officials could designate shooting areas. Finally — and this might be years down the road when finances allow — the county could construct its long-planned shooting range near Deseret Peak Complex.
Shooting is a wonderful family activity and an integral part of the culture of Tooele County. Nobody wants to see that go away. And yet, a multifaceted solution to the problem of reckless and illegal shooting is needed to keep people and public lands safe.