Sunday, January 06, 2008

Open Range: Not?

Last Sunday I published an article (Gun Range Owner Says He's Unfairly Targeted) addressing the question of predatory legal attacks on established shooting ranges.

In this article, the 'city fathers' of League City, Texas, actively conspired with a 'developer' to force a long established shooting range so that the land could be condemned, and then sold to the developer to build homes in the area. Note that they did this on 'city time', which is supported by local taxes ... funding to which the range owner probably contributed.

After writing the article, I sent the link to our friends on The Unofficial IPSC List. I asked them to comment, and to suggest or submit any other similar stories of predation on land owned by Shooting Ranges.

I received several comments, both on the list and in personal mail. I've decided to post here the two most typical examples.

First, in a short comment which is unattributed (because I didn't ask the writer for permission to identify him when I cited him), is an example of the problems which might proliferate when a range attempts to "do the right thing":

An (unidentified) member of The Unofficial IPSC List said:

To assure the town that we were totally committed to public safety, our board of directors invited the NRA's range team to come and give us an assessment.

Huge mistake. After they were done, our 200 yard range became a 100 yard range and if they could have it their way, they would have us all shooting through cement pipes that went all the way to the targets.

Another contributer (who responded to the above quote) was Karl Rehn, of KRTRAINING.COM; an Austin, Texas firearms instructor. When asked, Karl generously allowed me to not only quote him, but to cite him by name.

Karl Rehn said:
Unfortunately that's pretty typical of the NRA Range dept's "help" to IPSC clubs.

Years ago I was a member of an IPSC club that bought land and built a nice range that was going to be a club-owned permanent facility with enough berms to run a major match including 200 yd rifle stages.

The state had recently passed a law mandating that all ranges in counties with a population over 100K comply with the NRA Range Manual -- which was a terrible law because the NRA Range Manual does not define standards for ranges.

The neighbors sued us and the judge in our county (less than 100K residents) decided that if the law was good for big counties it should apply to us too.

The NRA sent a guy that had never shot IPSC and had never seen an IPSC match. His only shooting experience was bird hunting with a shotgun in an open field.

His recommendations, if implemented, would have made it impossible to run any kind of practical shooting event.

During that period neighbors were trespassing - bringing TV news crews onto our property, and someone vandalized a bulldozer on the property.

The club went bankrupt, lost the range and sold the land to one of the neighbors that was suing us.

The only good thing that came from the case was that the state Attorney General reviewed the NRA Range Manual law and basically struck it down. That was important later when the CHL law passed and lots of little one-berm private ranges got built and certified by the state as "safe" to run the CHL shooting test.

An IDPA range in the area was vandalized a few years ago. One night someone came in, started up the bulldozer and drove it over all the props.

We did get a statewide range protection bill passed, around the time CHL passed, that provides ranges some protection against complaints about noise from those that move into an area where a range has been operational.

When I built my private range our main downrange neighbor complained about noise -- all the way to the state police firearms training unit who certifies ranges for CHL classes.

The neighbor was told that our range complied with all state laws and that he basically just had to tolerate the noise. His complaint occurred on a Sunday morning on the 3rd day of a multi-day rifle class. Since then we have stuck to mostly pistol shooting with limited long gun shooting and limited Sunday morning shooting and we've had no more complaints from neighbors.

That experience seems fairly typical, in the context of my experience that most shooting ranges are willing to make extraordinary efforts to be 'good neighbors'.

One good example is the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club (ARPC), here in Oregon.

ARPC is centered on a small hill (approximate elevation: 100') which is actually a 'butte', in that it has two points of high elevation. The butte is the ultimate backstop berm for all of the ranges. Ranges include a 20+ table Bench-Rest range on the west side; a trap and skeet range on the west side; a 7-bay pistol range ("the North Range") on the North side of the butte, where every bay includes a 3-sided, roofed building with the open side toward the butte; and five more 'open' (no buildings included, at this time) shooting bays on the East side of the butte.

The North Range and the bays on the East side were used in the 2006 USPSA Multigun Nationals, the 2007 USPSA Multigun Area-1 Tournament, and the 2007 Cowboy Action (S.A.S.) "Shoot-out at Saddle Butte" Tournament.

Note that the closest neighbor is a farm house about 3/4 mile NORTH of the range. On the West, the U.S. Interstate 5 Freeway runs North/South 1/4 miles away on the other side of an orchard. On the other three sides, open fields provide a buffer zone.

Still, ARPC has a standing rule that while shooting on the North Range, the (pedestrian) doors on the covered shooting areas must be closed, to muffle the noise which may escape through these doors and thus annoy their distant neighbors.

Another example:

The Chehalem Valley Sportsman Club (home of Dundee Practical Shooters) is located immediately adjacent to a county park. It's a very nice park, and because the Dundee range is also backed up against a tall hillside, the danger of rounds leaving the range is minimized. In fact, in the bay closest to Cranberry Park, the club has an iron-clad policy of not placing targets where even a ricochet could possibly impact in the park. Neighbors include at least two wineries, which have never complained about the noise (possibly because they are located on the other side of nearby hills.

Still, the park is occasionally used in clement weather for outdoor weddings. The club has a policy of coordinating with special activities at the park. In the past several years, we have seen that weddings are often scheduled on the same day as USPSA matches. On those occasions, the club ALWAYS stops all competition and shooting for as much as an hour, to allow the solemnity of the wedding ceremony to continue without the contention of noise from the match which may reverberate from the tree-clad hills surrounding the range.

Most shooting ranges are originally placed far away from residences. However, as municipalities grow the 'neighborhood' may expand until residential housing is placed immediately adjacent to shooting ranges. The developers know that the range is there, yet they build there anyway ... and that's fine.

The problems occur when new residents decide that they are unwilling to endure the annoyance of noise from shooting ranges. If there is any fault to be assigned here, it is shared by the developers and the people who buy property in new developments. If the developer fails to inform buyers that a shooting range is in the vicinity, then the buyers should take their complaints to the developers. It may happen that the developers would be responsible for misrepresenting the neighborhood, or if they had informed the buyers that a range was in the neighborhood then the buyers are responsible for having bought property which may be subject to the annoyance of shooting in the near vicinity of their homes.

This is applicable only to noise issues.

If rounds are leaving the range and land in private property, the ranges may then be deemed responsible for either making changes in their range design, or discontinuing operations entirely.

It takes only a small number of (justifiable) complaints about 'rounds leaving the range' to require ranges to make such extensive physical reconfigurations that the range can no longer operate.

If you own a range near a municipal site which may someday be developed, you have very few option. Either you can buy up the adjacent property and keep it as a 'safe impact zone', or you can reconfigure your shooting bays ... often at similar or even greater expense.

You make that decision now, while land is 'relatively' inexpensive, or you can make it later, when your options are limited by the developers.

For more information about the NRA Range Manual, see the following links:

National Association of Shooting Ranges: ("Lessons Learned", 1996)

I have attempted to find the "NRA RANGE MANUAL", and my best Internet Surfing Efforts have been defeated. The best I can find is some extreme 'Star Wars' type gadgets here.

Apparently, a man named Richard Whiting authored a NRA Range Manual in 1988. It was available from Unfortunately, it is no longer available.

The Cedar Rod & Gun Club (?) wrote a Range Manual in 2004 which may provide usable information. Or not.

I tried to contact NRA directly for this information. I was unable to complete the contact because, although I joined 3 weeks ago, they haven't given me my member number. More on this later .. and I'm telling you, this is not a positive reflection on the NRA.

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