My mother, a native Coloradan, was an avid outdoorswoman who instilled in me a great sense of adventure, love for the wilderness, and a deep appreciation for Colorado's outdoor heritage. After college, my passion for the challenges offered by Colorado's wilderness and high peaks led me to return as an instructor and eventually executive director of the Colorado Outward Bound School. And today, that perspective is reflected in each of the decisions I make in the U.S. Senate, especially in my role as chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee. I understand the need to respect and protect the land while also ensuring that the public can enjoy the resources and recreational opportunities it provides. Interacting with the land, whether through hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, or skiing - or any other kind of outdoor recreation - is a way of life in the West, and it's important to support these activities as we consider issues involving wildlife management or conservation of our great outdoors.
Colorado's natural heritage is also critical to our economy. Hunting and fishing represent the second-largest tourism industry in Colorado, contributing more than $1.8 billion to our economy, and sustaining 21,000 jobs annually, and it is a significant boon to our rural communities. Outdoor recreation more broadly contributes over $10 billion annually to Colorado's economy and generates 107,000 jobs statewide. So we support Colorado jobs and the economy by encouraging responsible land and water management.
Gun-ownership is also an integral part of our Western heritage. I believe that Americans' rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are not limited to firearms used for hunting, but must also include the right to bear arms for other lawful purposes, including personal protection and collecting. When I was a member of the Colorado General Assembly, I worked closely with the sportsmen's community to pass legislation increasing the fines for illegal poaching of big game animals like Samson, the majestic bull elk that was a mascot for Estes Park. In the U.S. House of Representatives, I sponsored legislation that would preserve the ability of states like Colorado to grant preferences to in-state hunting and fishing license holders. And in response to concerns raised by Coloradans, I authored legislation that would encourage the National Park Service to use hunters instead of paid-sharpshooters to reduce the elk herd in Rocky Mountain National Park. This strikes me as a smart way to use the skills of sportsmen and women to manage the growing problem of elk overpopulation in the park while saving taxpayers' money.
On gun legislation in general, I hold the view that the burden of proof is on those seeking to change existing laws, and that we must do a better job of enforcing these laws before embarking on new restrictions or regulations. In this regard, I am reminded of the tragedies at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and other instances in which terrible crimes have been committed with guns. We should all be able to agree to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and that is where I believe our emphasis should be placed.
I also believe that the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals made a convincing constitutional argument against the so-called "gun ban" in Washington, D.C. I generally support the self-rule of residents and their local governments because I think they, like the residents of Colorado, should largely be allowed to set their own policies. But the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. After reviewing the ruling, I think the D.C. Court of Appeals correctly held that the D.C. gun ban improperly violated the Second Amendment. This ruling provides new guidance on the reach of Second Amendment rights that we did not have prior to 2008. While the Court's decision does not answer every question, I believe it strikes the right balance in favor of protecting individual liberties and gun ownership. In February of 2009, I voted to uphold this judicial decision to protect the Second Amendment rights of the District of Columbia's residents. And I will continue to defend Second Amendment rights of Coloradans.