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Having access to good places to shoot is a top concern among gun owners no matter whether they are hunters who only go to sight-in before opening day or they are serious 3-Gunners or trap shooters whose annual round count is in the thousands.

Shooting ranges, both public and private, face many challenges to stay open, but fortunately, interest in the shooting sports is not one of them.

The majority of range operators reported that in 2011, shooting activity at their facilities increased, according to a recent industry survey. Among the more than 500 ranges interviewed, 42.4 percent of ranges said the volume of shooting increased somewhat, while nearly 20 percent indicated “significant” increases. By contrast, 10.3 percent of ranges said they experienced a decline in shooting activity.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that the threats to shooting ranges come from many directions, and unless they’re confronted by a vigorous response from a united community of shooters, these threats can shut a range down. And whenever that happens, a vital link to our hunting and shooting heritage and fundamental Second Amendment rights is lost.

Nasty Neighbors
The struggles of the Ashland Gun Club in Ashland, Ore., demonstrate the difficulties that ranges with residential neighbors often encounter. The story is a familiar one. An established range that is a vital resource to a whole community of shooters gets new neighbors who either build or buy homes in proximity to the facility. One or more of these newcomers decides they don’t like the sound of the gunfire or, perhaps, gun owners in general, and now they have the opportunity to do something about it. So they raise a stink and file lawsuits, and the range, which was likely never awash with cash to begin with, finds itself in a fight for its life as it attempts to fund a defense.

In the case of the Ashland Gun Club and its roughly 400 members, the lousy neighbor is Dr. Edward Kerwin, who in 2004 built a 19,045-square-foot home to the north of the 101-year-old gun club, which has been located in the same spot since 1968.

Kerwin, along with a couple who built a home near the gun club in 2007, filed a federal lawsuit in December 2011, alleging that the club is violating numerous environmental laws and is a noise nuisance, and that stray projectiles from the club are striking his property, according to published reports in the Mail Tribune. The plaintiffs want the defendants to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines for every day they allegedly violated the Clean Water Act, dating back for decades, as well as pay for their attorney’s fees and mental anguish, the paper reported.

Would you be surprised to learn that the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Tom Dimitre, is also the chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter?

As this issue went to press, Ashland Gun Club president Mike LaNier said the club’s attorney was preparing a response to the complaint.

“All three of the plaintiffs moved into the area in the last 10 years,” LaNier said. “The doctor’s house is about 800 yards away from the club, and after he bought his 60 acres and built his 19,000-square-foot house, he wanted us out of here.”

Despite the fact that the club is located in a non-residential zone and only two households out of the dozen or so in the vicinity of the club are part of the suit, LaNier said the threat represented by the suit is real.

“If this lawsuit is successful, it will probably mean the end of the gun club and that would be a terrible loss for all the people in our area,” he said.


Policing Ourselves
Even ranges that have no neighbors to speak of—that are literally out in the middle of nowhere—can find themselves enmeshed in struggles to stay open, and in these cases it is sometimes the shooters themselves who are to blame.

Undesignated and unsupervised shooting ranges are common, particularly in the West, where there is abundant public land. These sites, often little more than rough gravel pits, are typically on the outskirts of towns and have been used for shooting in some cases for decades. And if you’ve ever been around many of them, you know they often look like bullet-riddled garbage dumps from the trash that people haul out there to shoot at. This is true even at designated sites that have minimal or no supervision.

Worse than eyesores, these ranges can encourage illicit activity, as was suspected in the case of a range on BLM land 17 miles north of Billings, Mont. Despite periodic cleanups of the accumulated trash at the site, the shooters who used the range didn’t take responsibility for it. After some livestock were shot and killed on neighboring private land, there were calls to close the range completely.

To turn things around, the BLM closed the site for two weeks for a cleanup and then posted a law enforcement ranger at the entrance to screen those coming to the range.

The BLM said people who arrived with appliances, glass bottles, paint cans, pumpkins, furniture, pallets, and such were told to take them back home. Shooters who seemed somewhat careless, young, and inexperienced were more carefully watched.

“My goal was to educate, not to hammer people,” said Chuck Ward, the ranger who monitored the shooters. “I wanted them to be on our side.”
The pubic there knew what was at stake, as a nearby range had been closed and sold off years prior because of similar issues.

Once the littering stopped and more shooters started helping out, the site attracted more responsible visitors and the cycle of neglect and abuse ended—as did the prospect that the public would lose another place to shoot.

The cooperation between the BLM and the community in this instance resulted in a clear victory for access to quality shooting, which is vital if our sport is to thrive.

From the April 2012 issue of Outdoor Life magazine.