Gun lobby co-opts sportsmen’s agenda with SHARE Act

One of the oldest tricks in Washington is to slap a catchy label on terrible legislation in the hopes that no one will notice what is actually inside the bill. That dirty trick may have been perfected with the so-called Sportsmen’s  Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act or SHARE Act.

The bill does almost nothing to actually enhance sportsmen’s access. But it does contain massive giveaways to the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby that would sweep aside common-sense measures to limit gun violence — not to mention continuing the assaults on the Endangered Species Act and environmental protections that have become the hallmark of the current Congress.

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Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopBureau of Land Management to move headquarters from DC to Colorado Overnight Energy: Democrats to vote on 2020 climate debate | Green groups sue to stop Keystone XL construction | States sue EPA for tougher rules on asbestos Overnight Energy: Judges remove remaining barrier to Keystone XL construction| House committee asks Interior to detail grants to wildlife organizations accused of abuse| Inspector general rules Park Service employee violated regs in complex art deal MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has championed the SHARE Act, claiming in a recent op-ed that the legislation is needed because federal land management agencies “continue to restrict access to public lands for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting.” 

That is a completely fraudulent assertion. Virtually all Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands — including wilderness areas — are already open to hunting and fishing, and the regulations for hunting are set by state law, not federal law. Most wildlife refuges are open to hunting and fishing. National Parks and National Monuments allow recreational fishing. 

The notion that federal land managers are conspiring to close hunting and fishing access is as ridiculous as black-helicopter, Agenda 21 conspiracies that the United Nations is seeking to take over America.

Which SHARE Act provisions actually benefit hunters and fishermen?

Is it Title I, which prohibits the entire federal government from addressing lead poisoning caused by ammunition or fishing tackle? Even though waterfowl hunters switched to non-toxic ammunition decades ago, and even though lead poisons people and wildlife alike, and even though there are non-toxic alternatives, this legislation would forever preclude the government from taking action. 

Is it Title II, which eliminates liability on any shooting range built or operated with federal funding in whole or in part — if for example a deranged person commits a mass shooting on that firing range? The shooting range is free of liability in all cases, even if it knew a dangerous person was using the firing range and did nothing to alert the authorities.

Or is it Title III, which allows any person to carry weapons at federal dams in any way they see fit? Why does a hunter need to carry a firearm on Hoover Dam or Lake Mead, which gets 7 million visitors a year? Are there really good hunting opportunities on a lake filled with thousands of recreational boaters?

And then there are the provisions eliminating all restrictions on the purchase of silencers, eliminating restrictions on armor-piercing bullets, and eliminating restrictions on carrying firearms across state lines. 

Hearing loss is a serious issue, and hunters should protect their hearing. But given that silencers cost several hundred to over a thousand dollars, earplugs seem like a more efficient solution.

When I worked as a park ranger in Montana and Alaska, I had to become proficient with rifles, shotguns and handguns. I spent many hours on firing ranges, and ear muffs worked just fine. And it doesn’t seem particularly sporting to hunt an animal when that animal can’t even hear you if you miss. 

In my travels I have yet to come across wildlife wearing body armor. Why would hunters need armor-piercing bullets to kill a deer?

Armor-piercing bullets can have unpredictable effects when they enter a body, but there is clear research on what happens when a lead bullet impacts a target like a deer or elk. The lead breaks apart into lots of tiny pieces so small that hunters often don’t even know they are eating them; poisoning themselves and their families.

The SHARE Act undermines the Endangered Species Act by legislatively delisting wolves in the Midwest despite two federal court decisions that wolves still need protections. It also would eliminate restrictions on killing bears and wolves in their dens on Alaska National Preserve lands. And it undermines the Marine Mammal Protection Act by opening a loophole on polar bear hunting.

But these anti-wildlife provisions are almost an afterthought to the SHARE Act’s extraordinary giveaways to the gun lobby. 

The SHARE Act should really be titled the National Rifle Association Enhancement Act.  Whatever legitimate grievances sportsmen’s groups have with access to hunting and fishing, this bill is a terrible way to address them. It is sad to see hunters give political cover to the gun lobby and fall for this cynical ploy, hook, line and sinker.

Brett Hartl is the government affairs policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.