The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls 12 million acres of public land and water, 422 lake and river projects, and 7,700 miles of trails—and, except for hunting uses and other restricted purposes, you can't carry a gun on any of them.
But under a rider in an appropriations bill set to move through the House this spring, that could change. The Energy and Water spending bill, which cleared a subcommittee Wednesday, has language that would allow for the possession of firearms on Army Corps land.
Currently, firearm use on Army Corps land is restricted largely to target ranges or hunting activities. By contrast, the National Park Service allows loaded firearms, contingent on state regulations, under a policy enacted in 2010.
House Republicans have included similar riders in previous spending bills, but they've been blocked in the Senate amid safety concerns. Under the Republican-controlled Senate, however, the policy may have a clearer path. A bill from GOP Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho was included in a bipartisan sportsmen's bill alongside other measures on hunting, fishing, and camping.
"Burdening law-abiding citizens of this country with additional gun restrictions is not the answer to safeguarding the public," Crapo said at a hearing on the bill last month. "Americans' Second Amendment rights must be restored to lands managed by the Corps."
Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio has a companion bill in the House, and a spokesman said Gibbs is concentrating on moving it through the appropriations process.
The effort is also likely to be buoyed by an October court decision from an Idaho federal judge, who ruled that the ban violated the Second Amendment and lifted it in the state. Judge B. Lynn Winmill sided with plaintiffs who said they had been denied a right to self-defense because they could not bring a firearm onto Corps land that was near their home (they had asked a Corps commander for permission, which is allowable under Corps policy, but did not hear back).
But opponents have balked at the potential of having firearms near the dams, water-control systems, and other infrastructure that the Corps operates. In a 2013 Senate debate on the measure, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said such infrastructure was a "target for terrorists" and lifting the gun ban would set up "a national security threat."
The Corps has also argued that firearms would be a safety concern because of the heavy use of its lands and security concerns for its facilities.
The House fiscal 2016 spending bill sets a $35.4 billion spending level for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies, a $1.2 billion increase from current spending levels. That includes a $142 million bump for the Army Corps, $865 million more than the Obama administration had proposed.
It comes stocked with other potentially tricky measures as well—boosting spending for fossil-fuel programs while cutting from the DOE's energy-efficiency and renewable-energy office. It also includes an additional $150 million for nuclear-waste disposal to support reopening the Yucca Mountain repository.
An additional rider would bar a proposed EPA and Army Corps expansion of federal Clean Water Act authority, which Republicans have said would mark a regulatory overreach by the federal government.