Clark Aposhian, spokesman for the Utah Shooting Sports Council, has a big PR problem. More than 100,000 acres of Utah have burned already this fire season and he fears target shooters will be the scapegoat.
More than 20 of the state’s 400 (and counting) wildfires this year have been linked to shooters exercising their Second Amendment right on public land. That’s only about five percent of the fires, Aposhian says, but in the public perception, “It might as well be 95 percent,” said in a conversation with me. Aposhian admits he’s annoyed that the media and politicans seem eager to blame gun owners for the Utah’s on-going summer of fire in a quest for an easy answers.
“You bet I’m getting defensive. We represent very conscientious shooters,” he says of USSC. “We don’t represent slobs or rednecks who try to find the stupidest thing they can do, then do it. [But] shooters are all colored and impugned by that one percent.”
For one thing, he says, it’s unclear in most cases how shooting alone could have triggered the fires. Contrary to popular belief, hot lead just isn’t that hot. To ignite brush usually requires something more, like military tracer ammunition or explosive targets. In the last few days, Aposhian and his cohorts at USSC have had no luck in experiments to start fires with conventional ammo. But he points out that with the state’s “perfect storm” fire conditions, he is keeping a wide-open mind.
“I’m not saying they aren’t started by shooters,” Aposhain says. “I want to know how a bullet–at what speed? What did it hit?–starts a fire. Not only is it going to help the investigations, but it is going to help down the road when, if we find a pattern and a component at fault.” Of course a new component of 21st Century target shooting is an obvious culprit.
Informal “plinking” sessions in the boonies used to involve paper targets and empty beer cans. But in recent years, the shooting industry has been mining a rich marketing niche: dudes who like to blow shit up. It’s a lucrative market since just about all dudes like to blow shit up.
So what are the chances that Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature (which contains its fair share of dudes who like to blow shit up) will regulate exploding targets or limit target shooting on public lands? Besides Utah politicians’ morbid fear of being called anti-gun, a Utah company, Star Targets, makes exploding targets.
When Gov. Gary Herbert met this week with Senate President Michael Waddoups and House Speaker Becky Lockhart to discuss the fires, and specifically, target shooting–Aposhian was there to offer options to what he fears will become a regulatory “free-for-all.”
Not surprisingly for a guns rights advocate, Aposhian is pushing education and public awareness–things like adding five minutes on fire safety to state hunter ed classes and mounting an information campaign similar to the state’s anti-poaching and anti-DUI campaigns.
If you like explosions, here’s a Cabela’s video on the proper use of exploding targets. Notice at left of frame in the first explosion–grass appears to be catching fire.