Recently Utah’s republican governor, Gary Herbert, authorized a state forest official to impose gun rules on public lands because many fires this year, and in previous years, were started by target shooting and other gunfire in the ultra-dry and easy to burn west. Political pundits on the right have used this as an example of unfair gun control.
The governor’s decision was taken as a threat to the 2nd amendment by Fox’s jesters who reported on this announcement by consulting a gun rights expert instead of a wild land fire expert, “Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Sports Shooting Council, said that perhaps 5 percent of the wildfires in the state have been caused by target shooters this year” and added, “I don’t know how much of a problem it really is.” While pouting that some would be unable to celebrate Independence Day by shooting off guns patriotically, “Many people use these times to show patriotism as well as support for the Second Amendment.”
Ironically, earlier this month The Nature Conservancy and Field & Stream both reported that a bipartisan poll reflected that actually, conservation is patriotic.
In several published article on this subject, including the Associated Press article and Fox’s tale of woe, Mr 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.”
Aposhian’s implication – that the fact that steel-jacketed bullets can start fires is just a theory is absurd. Yesterday afternoon Jennifer Jones, Public Affairs Specialist for the National Interagency Fire Center, confirmed that some fires were in fact started by gunfire in the same email that she had already provided to the associated press on this subject. Ms. Jones also kindly explained to me that when officials use FIRESTAT to report their findings on the cause of wildfires, the only place that a person could record that a gun had caused the fire was under the “comments” category of an “other” heading. Knowing this, a member of her staff conducted a search for key words in the comments section for the words Target or Shoot and came up with a match for 13 records in 2012 and 28 in 2011. When searching for Target and Shoot together 5 records came up in 2012 and 13 in 2011.
When asked if she believed, in her expertise, that a fire could be started by a gun she recalled that “in 1995 a huge fire near Boise was started by an off-duty policeman who was working on target practice.” I pushed her a little, and pointed out that this could be a political ploy by some group or another to restrict gun use and asked again if she was sure that guns were capable of starting a forest fire. “Oh yes, absolutely” she replied, adding, “you wouldn’t believe what could start a fire when it’s dry enough.”
Ms. Jones’ opinion matches that of other fire officials who report it isn’t just a theory that guns can start fires, in Arizona prosecutors allege that five friends at a camp out and bachelor party set off a fire on May 12 when one loaded an incendiary shell, which burns rapidly and causes fires, into a shotgun and pulled the trigger.
My mother, Tammie Wilson, worked on many Washington State fires before retiring due to disability. She agrees that fires are easy to start in the right conditions, “on one fire I went to in Washington State the cause was found to be a grasshopper that had presumably jumped on an electric fence, jumped off on fire, and lit up a patch of grass.”
She also pointed out that a person’s right to fire their gun ends at the risk to our public lands. Knowing that I write mostly political articles she took time to say that “this ought not be a political issue.”
I remember the haggard look on my mother’s face when she would come from a fire that was particularly destructive or worse – one that took a young firefighter’s life. I saw that look as she began to dispense the wise answer to my questions about the possibility of political games regarding guns and fire that I am about to pass on to you, “There are no politics on a fire line – the job at hand is simply to stop the fire and do what we can to ensure another doesn’t start.”
My mom is a former agent of the great and wise Smokey Bear and I must admit that I believe her. The fact is that humans start 80% of forest fires and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to lesson that number, at all costs. If this means hanging up our guns till the rains come, so be it. Guns are tools – not toys. We use them to procure meat, to protect our families and to wage war. Their purpose is not to play target games or show patriotism. A true patriot protects the public lands we all enjoy. Let’s remember that in spite of Fox’s fast and furious plot to get your crazy republican uncle all worked up about his gun rights in time for the 2012 election