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Recreational Shooting on Public Lands at Risk



This land is your land, this land is my land … partisan paybacks are getting out of hand.

Whether you pull the lever for a pol with an R or a D after their names, one thing we should all be able to agree on is that public lands are meant for, well, the public. They belong to all of us and they’re there for our enjoyment. Of course, there are limits to the activities we can enjoy on those public lands–snowmobiling, four-wheeling, bonfire-building, and other legal activities can be harmful to the ecosystem depending on where you are. The vast majority of American outdoorsmen understand and respect that fact.

That said, American outdoorsmen are used to being told why we can’t use public lands in a specific way that would otherwise be legal. A trail sign to let us know that we can’t use gas-operated engines because it disturbs elk calving, for example. Or perhaps a notice at the entrance that there’s a burn ban due to dry weather. So when we hear that an area is about to be closed to recreational shooting, we expect some sort of environmental or safety-based justification. Were vandals shooting up Saguaro cacti? Did a berm fail? Did a ricochet injure someone?

So when we learned that the Sonoran Desert National Monument is to be closed to recreational shooting, we anticipated a reason that went beyond “Trump,” but we were disappointed. To paraphrase a comment everyone’s mother made at some time or another: If Donald J. Trump told you not to jump off a bridge, would you do it just to spite him? For the rest of the details, we’re turning it over to the NSSF.


By Larry Keane

President Joe Biden is determined to destroy the notion that responsible gun owners should be able to responsibly teach the next generation of outdoorsmen and women recreational target shooting. His latest scheme is to shutter 98.9 percent of the Sonoran Desert National Monument to recreational target shooting.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized a resource management plan revision that closes off all but 1.1 percent of the nearly half-a-million-acre national monument. BLM announced earlier this year that it planned to close all but 5,295 acres to recreational target shooters.

The move is the latest snub to outdoorsmen and women, as much as it is a rejection and reversal of gains made by the outdoor recreation community during the Trump administration. In 2018, the Trump administration published a plan to open 90 percent – or 435,700 acres – of the Sonoran Desert National Monument to recreational target shooting.

Government Taketh Away

In other words, the Biden administration not only reversed the gains made for recreational target shooters and outdoorsmen and women, they took away even more opportunities that existed before President Donald Trump ended the previous restrictions to target shooting on those public lands.

That’s not the first time President Biden has taken a swipe at outdoorsmen and women who want to pass along their hunting heritage and safe firearm handling skills to the next generation. In July 2023, the Biden administration’s Department of Education shared guidance to schools to strip funding for hunter education and scholastic archery programs in public schools. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona claimed it was necessary because of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a wildly off-base claim that earned the rebuke of NSSF, conservation groups and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

The reaction was swift. Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of U.S. Rep. Mark Green’s (R-Tenn.) Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act to amend the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to clarify school programs “training students in archery, hunting, or other shooting sports” are eligible for funding. The lopsided vote of 424-1 in the House of Representatives and a unanimous agreement in the U.S. Senate sent the message. President Biden was off target in attacking youth hunter education. He was forced to sign the veto-proof legislation in October 2023.

Now, the Biden administration is claiming the decision to shutter even more land to recreational target shooting is needed because of a court settlement the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to in April 2022, stemming from a 2019 lawsuit by a coalition of special-interest environmental groups that challenged the Trump administration’s opening of the Sonoran Desert National Monument to allow more access to public lands recreational shooting.

“The BLM worked to find a safe balance between various recreational uses of public lands while protecting objects of historic or scientific interest in the national monument,” said Phoenix District Manager Leon Thomas in a press release statement. “We continue to explore ways to enhance opportunities for recreational shooting on other public lands in Arizona, such as our new shooting sports sites in the metro Phoenix area.”

That’s at least a 60-mile drive. NSSF reports show that 21 percent of recreational target shooters almost exclusively use public land to practice and 43 percent noted that access constraints are their topmost concern.

Court Made Me Do It

There’s little evidence that the Biden administration’s DOJ and BLM fought hard to protect the ability of outdoorsmen and women to access the full spectrum of public lands in the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The inverse is true. Federal agencies, including the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), have engaged in “sue-and-settle” schemes with special-interest antigun and anti-hunting groups to advance an extremist agenda. It’s a way for bureaucrats to throw their hands in the air and claim they were forced into these tilted decisions by the courts and had no other recourse.

Except that’s not true. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted “sue-and-settle” schemes as a means of regulating behind closed doors.

“‘Sue and Settle’ refers to when a federal agency agrees to a settlement agreement, in a lawsuit from special interest groups, to create priorities and rules outside of the normal rulemaking process,” the U.S. Chamber wrote in 2018. “The agency intentionally relinquishes statutory discretion by committing to timelines and priorities that often realign agency duties. These settlement agreements are negotiated behind closed doors with no participation from the public or affected parties.”

The practice is a way for government bureaucrats to work hand-in-glove with special-interests to not only skirt the regular process but to force policies that disenfranchise those who oppose them. In the case of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, that’s leaving recreational target shooters and outdoorsmen and women out in the cold while catering the environmental groups.

NSSF supports an answer to some of these problems that have already been introduced in Congress. Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) introduced the H.R. 1614, the Range Access Act, that would require the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and BLM to have at least one qualifying recreational shooting range in each district. That doesn’t solve all the issues.

The Biden administration continues to use the “whole-of-government” to attack the firearm industry and those who value their Second Amendment rights. That includes the DOJ, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry Security (BIS) and the Interior Department’s USFWS and BLM.

For the Biden administration, the announcement to block off 98.9 percent of the Sonoran Desert National Monument has the added effect of robbing those who value their traditions of responsible gun ownership from being able to access public lands to teach and pass along that ethos to the next generation of gun owners.

It’s not just an attack on Trump administration policies. This is an attack on America’s heritage of responsible firearm ownership.



  1. Tim Orr

    June 20, 2024 at 7:30 am

    I’m not a Biden supporter but I hate having to sort through all the Biden hating BS to find a real reason for this action. I gave up. You make it sound like there is only one reason…because they hate Trump. Tired of this rhetoric, especially during an election year.

  2. mike

    June 18, 2024 at 12:31 pm


  3. Tony Urso

    June 18, 2024 at 11:02 am

    We have been fighting with BLM over this exact issue in the Phoenix, AZ area for almost 4 years. They build 4 outdoor shooting ranges “for shooters”. The ranges suck and are unsafe by any standard, yet they closed thousands of adjoining acres to recreational shooting. The following is a presentation we made to BLM, which they ignored.

    If anyone has a similar effort going please look me up: A. J. Urso

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