It felt good to sneak out a little early from NSSF’s Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show held in Las Vegas last week. The air was cool and crisp and the desert sun was a welcome change from the show floor. The early escape, though, wasn’t a free-for-all sprint to the airport. Rather, it was to join Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke to make right what’s been going on wrong for too long.
I, along with several of my NSSF colleagues, joined with more than 50 local volunteers, including representatives from Bass Pro Shops and NRA members, to help clean a public gun range administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to clean up what has become an eyesore. In reality, it’s more than that. It’s a dump. Literally. And it was time to make it right.
This is our land
“It looks like a landfill,” Secretary Zinke told reporters. “This is on our land. The land belongs to us, not the government. … We have to make sure this doesn’t repeat itself.”
He’s right. I walked the range, just off a busy stretch of desert highway and only minutes away from resorts and spas. This wasn’t a gun range like most of us know. There were no benches, marked lanes, target areas or backstops. This was an open area on the side of a hill. It was littered with crushed shotgun shells, broken glass, rusting metal and plastic packing material from ammunition boxes.
Fifty volunteers, armed with gloves and yellow plastic bags fanned out and began filling them up. Secretary Zinke and members of his staff were right there alongside the volunteers. We all saw the same thing.
Firearm ownership is an essential right and throughout SHOT Show week, we celebrated our vibrant industry. We were all excited by the new models and business opportunities. The 50 volunteers in the desert didn’t make this mess, but they knew it was a poor representation of who we are as a firearms community.
Enjoy the right, embrace the responsibility
We all want more access to public and private shooting ranges, which are critical to growing our sport. We want to be able to wander public woods, fields and marshes to hunt with our children and go target shooting. Secretary Zinke has been working hard to open up access to recreational shooting, hunting and outdoor recreation at a greater pace than we’ve seen in years. That right to use our land, though, comes with responsibility.
When we as a community dodge our responsibility to be ethical stewards of the public land, we risk losing the access we have now and you can forget about expanding that access. We risk spoiling the treasures our children and their children will inherit. We risk destroying the spaces we value. Worse, we risk a return to policies that would exclude our pastimes and slowly choke off our rights. What sort of impression do we make to non-shooters or new participants when we leave a garbage dump behind at a public shooting area?
I joined with the other volunteers and filled several yellow plastic bags with garbage. The volunteers are a testament to a new commitment, a new attitude. We have an Interior Department that believes we, the People, are the owners of our public lands, and their use is open to us. We must live up to the responsibility that accompanies having access to those lands.
So, remember. Do your part. Clean up after you’re done shooting. Pick up any extra trash left behind by others who haven’t gotten the message. It’s like when your mom told you to clean the dishes in the sink even if you didn’t put them there. Responsible firearms ownership doesn’t just mean safe handling and storage of firearms. It means being a good steward of what belongs to all of us.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.