Colorado senator taking another shot at government-funded gun ranges

March 12, 2017 Updated: March 13, 2017 at 10:38 am
photo - CENTENNIAL, CO. - JULY 27: Catherine Williams fires her handgun during a Multi-State Concealed Carry class at the Centennial Gun Club shooting range in Centennial, CO July 27, 2013. (Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post)
CENTENNIAL, CO. - JULY 27: Catherine Williams fires her handgun during a Multi-State Concealed Carry class at the Centennial Gun Club shooting range in Centennial, CO July 27, 2013. (Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post) 

Is it the nanny state if the government is building gun ranges? Does it matter if bureaucrats are doling out tax dollars from purchases of guns and ammo?

Does it change the equation if liberals are behind the government push to get gun owners to practice?

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Clintonite from Denver, is among a bipartisan quartet of senators behind legislation to use federal tax dollars to pay 90 percent of the cost for five years for states to build and run shooting ranges.

States have been slow to bite on the current government-backed gun perk: 75 percent for two years.

In the House, Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder is a co-sponsor, along with Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, on the identical Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act.

Bennet tried the same bill two years ago. It was assigned to the Environment and Public Works Committee, where it languished. This year's version was assigned to the same committee Thursday.

Former Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Boulder, tried and failed the same idea in 2013, when the Democrats held the Senate. This taxation bullet point, then, has been left unchambered by Democratic and Republican majorities.

Here's one problem. If the government gets in the gun-range business, that's not going to be welcome news to the 120 licensed private and law enforcement-run gun ranges across the state listed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The business interests around guns are well-organized politically and spend heavily, but this is something for their customers and political foot soldiers. This issue might split that rock-solid coalition, which probably hasn't escaped Democrats' notice.

Moreover, some people in Washington just don't trust Democrats anywhere near guns.

The money, however, is there to be spent, one way or another, on the people who paid the taxes. Think of it as a user fee, like highways paid for with gas taxes.

The shooting range largesse would come from a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition - 11 percent of the wholesale price of long guns and ammunition and 10 percent of the wholesale price for handguns - to support wildlife agencies, hunter education and shooting programs.

"Hunting and target shooting are an important part of Colorado's Western heritage and outdoor economy," Bennet said in a statement Friday afternoon. "This bill will provide states greater flexibility to develop shooting ranges, and provide sportsmen with more opportunities for target practice and marksmanship training."

The Pittman-Robertson Act has been around since 1937 raising more than $10 billion. The National Shooting Sports Foundation credits the fund with rebuilding the populations of wildlife species and helping train hunters not to shoot themselves or anybody else.

Last year, Colorado got about $17.2 million from the fund. It varies from year to year, with each state getting an annual allocation based on a complicated formula based on the geographical size of a state and the number of hunting licenses.

"I doubt that many of the anti-gun people, or even many non-hunting and fishing environmentalists, know very much about the miracles performed by state wildlife and fisheries agents with all of this money, or how they get it, or why, or from whom," Hal Herring wrote on Field & Stream magazine's The Conservationist blog in 2013.

And now that all the wildlife have been taken care of, Bennet and company are looking to take care of those on the other end of the barrel.

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