That local governments should not support political lobbies seems obvious. But by tolerating the linkage of the use of gun ranges on public property to membership in the National Rifle Association, the city of Durango and La Plata County are doing just that. They should stop.
The indoor gun range off Florida Road near Chapman Hill is on property owned by the city and leased to the Durango Gun Club; the outdoor range near Bodo Park is on county land, also leased to the club. Membership in the gun club is a condition of using the ranges.
So far, so good. The Durango Gun Club is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. It makes sense its members be in charge of the ranges, their upkeep and proper usage. Requiring membership in the club helps fund maintenance of the facilities and, in itself, suggests nothing more than a common interest in shooting.
Things took a different turn in December when the Durango Gun Club elected to require its members also be members of the NRA. For while the National Rifle Association may have begun as an organization dedicated to promoting proficiency with firearms, it has long since morphed into a political lobby.
There is nothing wrong with that, if one chooses to join. Political lobbying is protected by the First Amendment, both as freedom of speech and as the right “to petition the government for the redress of grievances.” Those who agree with the NRA’s positions are not only within their rights to join it, they are probably wise to do so. It is a powerful and effective advocate.
But the same can be said of the Democratic and Republican parties, any number of special interests and public-policy advocacy groups of all stripes. And while all such groups have policy wins and losses, they are exactly the sort of entities that should never themselves be favored or encouraged by government.
Imagine, for example, the city contracted with the Humane Society to maintain the Dog Park and charged a fee for using the park to fund the effort. Would it be right if the Humane Society then tied park usage to membership in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?
What if the use of city parks or U.S. Forest Service trails required users to join the Sierra Club? Should fishing licenses be limited to members of Trout Unlimited?
There are good people in all those groups. And just as our republic requires we tolerate their views, our democracy encourages their expression of them.
But none of that should bear on access to public property. Requiring gun range users to join the Durango Gun Club has a direct link to the upkeep and operation of facilities of benefit to the public. Insisting on membership in the NRA, however, constitutes an endorsement of a lobbying group increasingly identified with controversial stands on public policy questions.
That is politics, pure and simple, and neither the city nor the county should be involved.