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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shooting conflict on national forest land resolved favorably

Dateline Tucson

As this is my first article for, I’ll first give readers a background on me, then an update on a situation with the Pima County Sheriffs Department.
I have been an Arizona certified concealed weapons instructor since 1994, and have been teaching classes almost since that time on the CCW permit qualification course. I am also one of the four founding members of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, ( ) a 501 c (4) civil rights organization with a focus on article 2, Section 26 of Arizona’s Constitution, the right to bear arms. I am AzCDL’s serving secretary. I host the only syndicated program on radio originating in Arizona, which deals with right to keep and bears arms (RKBA) issues as a part of its mission.
Most people not familiar with Arizona gun laws, think that we are unregulated here. Such is not so. While the infringements are less Californicative and New Jerseyistic, there are still incursions against our liberty. One is detailed below, with, for a change, a positive resolution.
In November of this year, I was teaching a CCW class on the mountain north of Tucson, Mt. Lemon. We were doing the shooting qualification, when a Pima County Sheriffs Deputy approached us. The deputies have jurisdiction on the road that goes up the mountain (about 27 miles from the base) and also have a joint jurisdiction for enforcement with the U.S. Forest Service.
It seems that someone had pitched a tent adjacent to the area at milepost 4.3 that is frequently used for target shooting. The tent was not in the line of fire.
Looking North from halfway between the main road and the shooting berm.
The tent in question was outside the frame of this picture, 90 degress left
at 220 yards.
Photo by Charles Heller
The deputy interrupted the class and told me that we could not shoot there, “within a ¼ mile of the tent.” I explained politely that the quarter mile rule involved hunting, not target shooting. His response to me was, “I’m not going to argue with you, it’s a ¼ mile.” As we were done shooting anyway, I informed him of that, and he left.
Wider angle view of the shooting area.
Photo by Charles Heller
Round 2 began on the phone with the east side watch commander, Lt. David Theil, on the following Monday. I informed Lt. Theil and his duty sergeant, that the deputy had been professional, but that he was incorrect. His sergeant explained that they were enforcing ARS 17-309, which is a hunting rule.

17-309. Violations; classification
A. Unless otherwise prescribed by this title, it is unlawful for a person to:
4. Discharge a firearm while taking wildlife within one-fourth mile of an occupied farmhouse or other
residence, cabin, lodge or building without permission of the owner or resident.

I politely informed Lt. Theil and his sergeant that I was not hunting, but target shooting. The sergeant claimed that, “target shooting is a hunting activity.” I explained that it was not, and that I did not have a hunting license, nor did I need one. The sergeant then insisted that a hunting license was required.
I reminded the sergeant that hunting licenses were only required on Arizona state trust lands, NOT the national forest. His response, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” I then explained that the controlling legislation was Title 36 of the code of federal regulations, part 261.10, “occupancy and use.”

(d) Discharging a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury, or damaging property as follows:
(1) In or within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area, or (2) Across or on a National Forest System road or a body of water adjacent thereto, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result in such discharge.

The duty sergeant then went on to insist that if we had continued to shoot there, “it would have been an issue for the courts to sort out.”

I informed both Lt. Theil and his sergeant that they were exceeding their authority under the color of law, which violated both Arizona and Federal law, and that if a court of law was to decide the issue, it might be under a federal prosecution of them for deprivation of civil rights under 18 U.S. code. Lt. Theil then said that I was being “bellicose.”

Not satisfied with that result, I contacted my county supervisor for the east side, Ray Carroll. We arranged a meeting with Lt. Theil.

During that February 18 meeting with Lt. Theil and District 4 County Supervisor Ray Carroll, I presented Lt. Theil with a written copy of both federal law and state hunting regulation, and pointed out to him again that the sheriffs department was exceeding its authority under color of law.
I asked Lt. Theil if it was the policy of his department to enforce “what was NOT the law.” He said to me, “no, it has never been the department policy to exceed its authority, and there is NO quarter mile rule for target shooting.”
What a different story than over the phone, I must point out to the reader. But now, just as interesting, he said something else. “I’m sure you’d agree with me based on experience, that there is a good reason for safety’s sake, to apply that hunting quarter mile rule to target shooting, wouldn’t you Mr. Heller?”
“No, Lt. Theil, I would not. In hunting you have a moving target, and in target shooting, you do not. Also in target shooting, you can control for rule 4.” (Always know your target and what’s beyond it.)
Lt. Theil then said, “well, the deputy was merely erring on the side of caution.”
Supervisor Carroll told me later that he was glad that the situation was resolved, as “I shoot at that very same spot with my son.”
Score one for the good guys.

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