House passes bill expanding land access for hunters

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The House on Friday passed legislation to expand public access to recreational shooting and hunting on federal lands.

The measure was approved by a 242-161 vote. Just 12 Democrats joined all but four Republicans in support of the legislation. The Democrats who voted for it were mostly members of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. 

The bill follows President Obama executive actions last month to expand background checks for gun purchases.

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"One of my priorities is making sure our hunters, anglers and sportsmen have access to our public lands to pursue their passions unencumbered by burdensome federal regulations,” Blue Dog Coalition Co-chairman Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said in a statement. 

The bill would increase the amount of funds states can use to develop public target ranges on federal lands. In addition, it would allow people to carry guns at water resource development projects. 

“Because lack of access is one of the key reasons sportsmen and -women stop participating in outdoor sporting activities, ensuring the public has reliable access to our nation's federal lands must remain a top priority,” said Rep. Rob WittmanRob WittmanSupreme Court to review Virginia state voting districts Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns House panel approves Puerto Rico debt relief MORE (R-Va.), the bill’s author.

Democrats objected to a provision that prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from restricting deer hunting with dogs in certain national forests in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said rules surrounding dog deer hunting practices should be left up to localities instead of a mandate from Congress. 

“This decision to ban hunting deer with dogs was necessary to create balance among multiple users of the forest, and Congress should respect that,” Beyer said.

The House passed a similar bill in the last session of Congress, and 41 Democrats supported that version at the time. Across the Capitol, another version of the measure stalled in the Senate in the last Congress because of a lack of consensus on amendments. 

Before final passage, the House rejected, 169-236, an amendment from Beyer to ban people from public shooting ranges if they are prohibited from carrying a gun.

“I believe that with these privileges come certain responsibilities. And one of those responsibilities is to ensure we’re not creating a situation where dangerous people are allowed to hone their shooting skills on the taxpayers’ dime,” Beyer said.

Republicans argued that such a proposal would be redundant, given that those individuals would already be prohibited from using guns, and a burden for managers of shooting ranges.

And Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) suggested that people with malicious intent wouldn't want to practice their shooting skills on a public range anyway.

"I have news for the author of this amendment: The last place a criminal wants to be is on a shooting range where he’s surrounded by law-abiding and armed citizens. Criminals prefer gun-free zones where decent people can’t fight back."

To imply that criminals would practice their shooting skills on public ranges, McClintock added, "is an insult to the many millions of Americans who own guns and who use shooting ranges."

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