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Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission Clamps Down on Recreational Shooting

Friday, January 11, 2008

At a public meeting last month, the nine-member Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission unanimously adopted rules that will make it easier to prohibit recreational shooting on all state land controlled by the Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) and that imposes other restrictions on shooters.

Ignoring the concerns raised by NRA members, including testimony provided by NRA staff at the meeting, the Commission unanimously rubberstamped the proposal that was before it.  The new rules, WAC 232-13-130 (1) (b), authorize the DFW to prohibit the discharge of firearms on any or all portions of Department land at any time and for any (or no) reason.  Without public notice or input, DFW will be able to prohibit recreational shooting on any state land by merely posting signs.  In turn, it may designate limited areas open for limited shooting under WAC 232-13-130 (2).

Further, the rules create an arbitrary 1000-foot diameter “no-shooting area” around every designated campground (500 feet out in all directions).  It was clearly conveyed to the Commission that one individual could be “illegally” shooting 100 feet away from a campground and be entirely safe while another could be “legally” shooting 501 feet away and be unsafe.  Specific local conditions such as topography and variables such as campground usage and the direction of the shooting should be the relevant factors.  Essentially, all nine commissioners went along with the argument made by the DFW Chief of Enforcement that campgrounds should be covered by the same standards already in state law that apply a 500 foot buffer around schools and homes.  They ignored the NRA arguments that there are very basic differences between schools and homes in populated areas and campgrounds in the middle of rural, forested land where recreational shooting has occurred safely for generations.

Incredibly, the Commission even refused to add language that would exempt the discharge of a firearm for self-defense in campgrounds.  As NRA pointed out during the public meeting, the new blanket prohibition violates Article I, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution.

Finally, WAC 232-13-130 (1) (c) now makes it unlawful to fail to remove expended shell casings and other target shooting debris after shooting activities.  Another NRA suggestion that a “good faith effort” or “due diligence” standard be added to the language was ignored.  What this means in practical terms is that a conscientious shooter who makes a legitimate attempt to clean up after his target practice session, but recovers only 99 percent of the shell casings he fired, is subject to sanctions for “littering.”

It is important to note that there were four sections of the proposed rules that were very controversial.  In addition to the section on firearms and shooting, there were sections regarding vehicle use, livestock and resource removal.  The Commission acknowledged the concerns of the other user groups by voting to defer action on those issues but ignored the concerns of shooters when adopting the restrictive language outlined above.  This action is a clear indication of how commissioners feel about the concerns of shooters as compared to those of other public land users.  Firearm owners and recreational shooters need to stand up and take note of how this policy-setting body and its individual members feel about your interests and rights!

Unfortunately, the vote has been taken and, for now, the damage has been done.  However, amendments to the section on firearms could be made in the future.  With this in mind, here are some things you can do in response to the action taken by the WDFW Commission:

1)       Contact the Commission office to politely and respectfully express your displeasure with the action taken by the Commission regarding firearms and target shooting.  Ask that staff forward your concerns to all nine commissioners.  The Commission staff can be reached by E-mail at  commission@dfw.wa.gov or by phone at 360/902-2267.

2)       Contact Governor Gregoire’s office to politely and respectfully express your displeasure with the action taken by the Fish & Wildlife Commission regarding firearms and target shooting.  All nine of the current commissioners were appointed by Governor Gregoire.  Contact information for the Governor can be found at the following link:  http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/default.asp

3)       Contact your legislators to let them know what the WDFW Commission has done and express your concerns.  Not only must the DFW work closely with the legislature (including for approval of its budget!) but, at the present time, a majority of the commissioners are still pending confirmation.  They may have significant leverage to influence future changes in the adopted rules!  Call the legislative hotline at 800/562-6000 or visit the legislative website to find your district and legislators:  http://www.leg.wa.gov/legislature

4)       Pay close attention to the issues considered by the WDFW Commission and watch how they vote on issues of concern to shooters, hunters and firearm owners.  Attend Commission meetings, especially when they are in your geographical area.  Find out if any of the commissioners live in your area and schedule a meeting with them.  Discuss your concerns and establish a dialogue with the goal of working to change the adopted rules or at least influence future decisions.  A list of Commissioners can be found at the following link:  http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/com/commiss.htm  Click on the individual names for the commissioners’ biographies but don’t be fooled by those who claim to be hunters and firearm enthusiasts…they all voted against you!

5)       Contact the NRA if you see DFW land being closed to shooting, if you know of areas around certain campgrounds (to be closed soon) where shooting is safe and appropriate or if you are subjected to unreasonable enforcement action by DFW personnel for legitimate shooting activities (i.e. the unreasonable “littering” standard).  DFW commissioners have “promised” shooters there will be no illegitimate closures or over-enforcement.  NRA can be reached at:  800/392-8683.

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