The Senate on Monday took a step toward passing legislation that would expand hunting, shooting and other sportsmen's activities on federal lands.
Senators voted 82-12 in favor of the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act, a procedural vote that could put the Senate in a position to approve the bill as early as this week.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), center, watched the Senate advance her bipartisan sportsmen's rights bill on Monday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The bipartisan proposal has been kicking around Congress for the last few years, and is a combination of several proposals aimed at letting people use the thousands of acres of land controlled by the federal government.
Among other things, it would ensure that more target ranges are placed on public land, and that target shooting, hunting and fishing can take place on these lands. It also ends a ban on fishing gear made with lead components, something that was put in place for environmental reasons.
Additionally, it would allow people to import polar bear trophies from Canada harvested from bears taken before they were placed on the endangered species list.
The bill is a sore point among some Democrats, who opposed it by saying the Senate should not be trying to expand the rights of people with guns.
The two Democratic senators from Connecticut — Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal — both said they would vote against the bill because the Senate should be considering tougher gun regulations. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place in Connecticut in late 2012, and both have been pushing for gun limitations since then.
"There is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had about bringing more legal guns onto public property," Murphy said. "But there is a more important debate than that about taking illegal guns off of our city streets."
"If the United States Senate is going to spend a week debating a bill about gun policy, than we should be talking about getting rid of illegal guns," he added. "We should be talking about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. We should be talking about stopping the epidemic of gun violence across this country."
But those senators, along with Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others, were not enough to stop the overwhelming majority support for the bill.
The House has passed similar legislation a few times over the last few years, and the language in the Senate is a product of Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The Senate bill also includes some language related to habitat conservation, which helped attract bipartisan support.
Before the Monday night vote, Hagan praised the bill as something that's needed to allow future generations of Americans to enjoy various activities on government-owned land.
"States will be able to allocate a greater portion of federal… funding to create and maintain shooting ranges on public lands," she said of the bill. "This is important because we are currently facing a shortage of public shooting ranges across the country."
The bill needed 60 votes to advance, so the Monday vote is a clear sign it can pass in the Senate once brought up for a final vote.