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{Colorado Springs Gazette, 2012-04-18)

Let’s talk about hypocrisy. Today’s shining example of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do conservatism (and oh, there a so many to choose from) is federally funded shooting ranges. Specifically, the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, working its way through Congress as SB1249.

I support the right to keep and bear arms. It is a fundamental, individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution. I think concealed carry is a great idea; armed citizens are a bulwark against tyranny and a deterrent to crime. I think attempts to regulate private ownership of firearms by law-abiding citizens have costs that far, far outweigh the benefits, and are ultimately incompatible with a free society. When the evidence for all this says otherwise, I’ll change my mind.

But how in good conscience can any conservative believe that part of the role of the federal government is to provide shooting ranges for its citizens?

To be fair, SB1249 doesn’t raise taxes. It just takes a 75-year-old tax already being paid by gun owners and allows the money to be spent on shooting ranges at a higher percentage than before, over a longer period of time. The greater accumulation of funds would then fund shooting ranges on existing public lands. So the bill doesn’t confiscate private property, nor would it expand the government’s already bloated inventory of public acreage. So what’s the problem?

Simple. The government of the United States should not be providing shooting ranges because that is not its proper function. The Constitution of the United States specifically enumerates the powers of the federal government. Those that are not so enumerated are left to the States, or to the People. Taxing some people to pay for the shooting activities of others is not why we have a country. Shame on conservatives for thinking otherwise.

“Oh Barry, you crazy idealist. Nobody talks that way any more.” But that’s just the point. What principles can conservatives stand on if their idea of liberty and limited government is pathetic begging to get some of their tax money spent on something they like? Shouldn’t we instead be asking why a 1937 tax on gun owners is still on the books? Instead of asking for the chance to shoot on public land, why not ask if the U.S. government really needs to own 30 percent of America?

And how hypocritical is it to publicly defend free enterprise and small business, while at the same time supporting subsidies that compete directly with private alternatives? Has anyone asked owners of private shooting ranges how they feel about being forced to pay for their competition? Somehow, I doubt it.

Public shooting ranges aren’t a public good, by any plausible economic definition. Equal access to a shooting range is neither efficient nor necessary. Shooting targets is not a “nonrivalrously consumable” activity, to use the jargon. The users of a shooting range reap the benefits, so they can and should pay the costs. Sure, learning to shoot is a Good Thing. Does that mean the government should subsidize it? Only if you’re a liberal.

I believe Sen. Udall (the author of SB1249) is a good man who is trying to do a good thing within the limits of how Washington works. And while doing something pro-gun in Colorado is politically smart (it will probably help Obama here), the senator’s bill may still ruffle the feathers of his Democratic colleagues on the Hill.

But those of us who want better for America should say no. As long as Republicans and conservatives allow themselves to be bought off in this small way and countless others, they will be seen as hypocrites who only want limited government and fiscal responsibility when it doesn’t affect them personally. The usual lefty media outlets have already had a field day with things like this. Remember “Keep your government hands off my Medicare?” As much as I like Jon Stewart, it’s time to stop giving him so much material.