Our View: Gun range closures are welcome, but they came too late (editorial) | VailDaily.com

Our View: Gun range closures are welcome, but they came too late (editorial)

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Our View

Word came last week that due to the high fire danger in the region, all of the gun ranges on public land in the county are closed until further notice. Better late than never.

But make no mistake, closing those ranges came late. In fact, those closures came too late to prevent three fires: a small blaze near Minturn, the Bocco fire near Wolcott that consumed more than 400 acres and the Lake Christine fire near Basalt. At this writing, the Lake Christine fire has scorched nearly 6,000 acres and three homes. Without the extraordinary efforts of firefighters from local, state and federal agencies, that fire could have become far more destructive and potentially deadly.

That it took three fires to close those ranges — on state, federal and town property — is perilously close to the old adage that a dangerous intersection only gets a stoplight if someone dies there.

As it is, the loss of three homes — and directly endangering the lives of both residents and firefighters — can be blamed on the negligent use of firearms.

At Wolcott, the still-unknown suspects were using exploding targets. Those are legal. But it's a really, really bad idea to use exploding targets in an area surrounded by tinder-dry sage, pinyon and juniper.

The suspects in the Basalt blaze were using "tracer" ammunition. Those rounds use smoke or fire to allow a shooter to track a bullet's path to a target.

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Again, these are legal, although prohibited at some ranges. And, again, shooting something that, by definition, burns as it flies while the region is under Stage 2 fire restrictions is a spectacularly bad idea.

Given the times, it's no surprise that virtually anything having to do with the use of firearms is going to provoke emotional responses one way or another.

But no one is talking about permanently closing gun ranges. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more firearm-friendly town than Gypsum just about anywhere you'd care to look. The range there is a town park, with virtually everyone there dedicated to the responsible use of firearms.

Even in Gypsum, the range was closed from an abundance of caution, and it will re-open as soon as conditions permit — but, we hope, not a moment before.

As is the case with campgrounds and campfires, the problem is that there are enough irresponsible, negligent or just plain dumb people in the world that any use of fire or firearms is a potential hazard to life and property.

That's what we're talking about right now. It doesn't take much of a spark to turn a simple mistake into a full-blown disaster.

Let's hope the current closures are enforced until the fire danger eases. Let's also hope officials act sooner than later the next time drought hits our region.

Lives may depend on it.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.