Gun Groups Battle It Out over 'Federal Land Seizure Act'

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: November 27, 2012 3:55 AM
Gun Owners of America, National Shooting Sports Foundation Logos
The U.S. Senate is set to vote this week on the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 (S 3525), a 100-page bipartisan measure that has pitted the gun industry’s trade association and a major gun-rights organization against each other.

And Sunshine State News has learned that this particular opposition to the bill originated with lawyers close to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

If passed, the Act would make it easier for the federal government to buy land for fish and wildlife preservation, and would improve access to public lands for hunters and anglers. Most of the opposition comes from environmentalist groups, who are upset with the bill’s codification of the right of hunters to continue using ammunition made with lead.

That provision has earned the Act the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and several conservative senators, including Florida’s own Marco Rubio.

But the gun rights organization Gun Owners of America (GOA), which touts itself as "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington," is vociferously opposing the bill, saying it expands the federal government’s “eminent domain” authority to confiscate private property without the consent of rightful landowners. GOA is urging gun owners to oppose the S 3525, which it has nicknamed the “Federal Land Seizure Act.”

“Our central objection is the National Fish Habitat stuff in Title 2, which specifically creates a 27-member board made up of Obama appointees or people from specific groups chosen by Obama appointees,” attorney Mike Hammond, legal counsel for GOA, tells Sunshine State News. “That board is authorized to form ‘partnerships’ with, among other things, outside groups – like the [leftist environmental organization] Sierra Club – for the development of fish habitats.

“The partnerships can involve the acquisition of any property which is either the fish habitat or a buffer adjacent to the fish habitat, or is a property that in some way pollutes the fish habitat. So, if you have a factory 1,000 miles away that is supposedly creating acid rain, it can be seized by the government.”

Supporters of the Sportsmen's Act say GOA’s concerns are unfounded, citing Section 211(e)(2) of the bill, which provides that “[n]othing in this [Act] permits the use of funds made available to carry out this [Act] to acquire real property ... without the written consent of each owner of the real property ...”

Hammond says the wording of that section is nothing but “a sleazy trick” and contains several loopholes.

“I’ve been in Washington nearly 40 years and have seen a thousand appropriations bills; ‘funds made available to carry out’ is a term of art that means ‘made available from the federal treasury,’” Hammond explains. “Fifty percent of the Title 2 money comes from nonfederal souces – state funds, municipal funds, private groups, or funds raised by charging admissions to fish habitats or for licenses – and it imposes no limits whatsoever on the ability to seize land using those funds.”

Hammond tells Sunshine State News his organization analyzed the Act after being invited to do so by “our friends in the Senate.” Sources told the News, on condition of anonymity, that those friends included legal counsel connected to Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

“I think those concerns are unfounded; they’re baseless and far-fetched,” Patrick Rothwell, director of government relations-federal affairs for NSSF – the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports – industry tells the News.

Rothwell says he doesn’t believe the Section 221 language means what Hammond says it does, and even if it did, “[i]f land were seized by the federal government using state or local government funds, the federal government would still need to spend money on maintenance and to carry out projects – and that money is explicitly prohibited from being used under that section.

“It’s so far-fetched ... I appreciate GOA’s concern, I just don’t see it.”

Rothwell suggested that GOA was straying from its mission in its focus on property rights instead of the interests of gun owners.

“I want to point out the irony that Gun Owners of America ignores the section most important to gun-owning Americans, the section relating to the Toxic Substances Control Act,” Rothwell opines. “This specifically codifies that the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have authority to regulate trade ammunitions made with lead components. If the EPA were to have the authority to ban such ammunition, the price of ammo would skyrocket, people would not be able to afford it, and money going to conserve projects would plummet.

“So, the interests of a few [property owners] are going to outweigh the interests of gun owners in their mind?” he asks. “That’s completely contrary to what a gun-owning organization should be about.”

Hammond says there are other reasons the Act should raise concerns.

“These small programs tend to grow into enormous pigsties for liberal interest groups and be interpreted by the courts to go far beyond what their ostensible initial purpose is,” he warns. “We’re convinced that the fish habitat sections are going to be one of these provisions.”

Alex Conant, Marco Rubio’s press secretary, tells Sunshine State News that Florida’s Republican senator is supporting the bill.

“The senator plans to vote yes on the Sportsmen’s Act,” he said in a statement. “The National Rifle Association also supports the final bill, lending the support of millions of gun owners.”

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

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