Federal Act Would Require Ranges on Many Public Lands

by Tommy Grant

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The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed, with bipartisan support, H.R. 6492, the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act. The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), garnered 51 bipartisan cosponsors. The measure was approved in a voice vote, a rare demonstration of Congress working across party lines.

The EXPLORE Act must be approved by the U.S. Senate before it can be considered by President Joe Biden.

The NSSF-supported bill includes the Range Access Act, which would increase and improve outdoor recreation opportunities across the nation while improving infrastructure and driving economic growth in rural communities. Specifically, that portion of the bill would require the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to have at least one qualifying recreational shooting range in each National Forest and BLM district, which is crucial to ensuring safe public recreational shooting. The EXPLORE Act also contains other provisions to improve hunting and recreational shooting access.

“This is a tremendous win for America’s gun owners and recreational target shooters and demonstrates what can be achieved when Congress works together for commonsense legislation that will improve access to safe firing ranges available to the public,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel. “We are thankful to Chairman Westerman for this bill to advance the interests of America’s sportsmen and women and for Congressman Blake Moore for ensuring that accessible and safe ranges are open in the public lands for all to enjoy.”

This legislation has the added benefit of supporting wildlife conservation and improving recreational shooting access. Recreational shooting is tied to approximately 85 percent of the Pittman-Robertson excise taxes currently being paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers, making it a major driving contributor to wildlife conservation. Since the Pittman-Robertson excise tax was enacted in 1937, firearm and ammunition makers have paid $27 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars for conservation and construction and improvement of public recreational shooting ranges.

The EXPLORE Act builds on the success of NSSF’s priority Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, which was enacted into law in 2019. That law, also known as the “Range Bill,” allows states to use their Pittman-Robertson fund allocations to begin construction of new ranges or improve existing state-run public recreational shooting ranges. Prior to this law’s enactment, states were required to put up 25 percent of the cost of range construction projects to access the matching 75 percent of Pittman-Robertson funds. Now, states can access those funds with a 10 percent match and will have five fiscal years to acquire land for range construction or expansion projects.

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