Colorado state reps address whether gun ranges should cease operations during fire restrictions
July 17, 2018
It seems like a straightforward "yes" or "no" question: When Stage 2 fire restrictions are in place, should a gun range overseen by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and supported by taxpayers that's in the affected area cease operations?
"So, um, not a straightforward question," said Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, whose Senate District 5 includes Basalt and El Jebel. "I think you're putting out hypotheticals out there that would require broad stakeholder process, and, you know, lots of meetings …”
"Those are not yes or no questions," she said in a recent phone interview following her visit to the Lake Christine Fire command center to speak with firefighting officials.
Current policy for Stage 2 fire restrictions, among other bans, prohibits smoking outside, campfires and open flame of any sort. All area counties and towns, as well as federal land agencies, have adopted the Stage 2 restrictions given the extremely high fire danger this summer.
Republican state Rep. Bob Rankin of Missouri Heights, who represents District 57 including Garfield County, also could not provide a yes or no answer to the evidently complex question at hand.
"So, because it's safer for shooters to use a range than to go out on, you know, just national forest lands and shoot. The range is in fact a safety measure to get those shooters into a safer environment than open land," Rankin said.
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The Lake Christine Fire blew up allegedly as a result of tracer rounds being fired off by a pair of suspects who have since been charged with fourth-degree arson, a class 4 felony. Tracers are a type of ammunition always banned at the CPW range, regardless of fire restrictions.
"I mean, those tracer rounds are clearly a pyrotechnic device, so I don't think that just shooting … bullets is equivalent to smoking or lighting campfires," Rankin said. "I'd really like to hear what the public has to say about this and get more detailed information. I'm obviously not an expert on fires."
When asked what he had heard from Basalt residents regarding whether or not Stage 2 fire restrictions should shut down any CPW gun ranges in the affected area, Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney had a response as fast as the Lake Christine Fire spread.
"Oh yeah, I would think so," Mahoney said. "I think the biggest message is, when Stage 2 fire restrictions are in, it's serious business. And, you know, any spark can lead to a huge incident."
Mahoney had asked just days before the fire broke out if the state would consider closing the shooting range during the high fire danger.
While Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt was "kind of surprised they did not close it," the local politician ultimately suggested there should have been more pressure from the people rather than elected officials like herself in getting the CPW gun range closed.
"Honestly, there should have been a lot of pressure from the grassroots on them because that's how politicians react, and there apparently wasn't," said Whitsitt, who was among town council members at a meeting last week calling for changes to be made at the gun range.
By "grassroots," the Basalt mayor said she means "citizens at large who are making a lot of noise now, and that's what kind of gets the attention of elected officials like me, or the state, or the feds, you know.
"So, and I'm not saying it's our fault as citizens, but … that's what drives politicians, is pressure from their constituents," Whitsitt said.