Commissioners hear update on Sundowner Gun Range

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners spent about 30 minutes Monday on a teleconference with the attorney who will be representing them in a civil action filed in U.S. District Court by the Sundowner Gun Range and its owner.

Commissioners also heard from Greg Smith, who has been chosen to chair a shooting range advisory committee appointed by the commission. The committee was asked to come up with recommendations for possible gun range regulations and inventory gun ranges in the county.

The committee had its first meeting and Smith provided a written report of the committee’s efforts.

The commissioners requested the committee analyze regulations from other areas, address safety issues, and discuss possibly requiring a certificate of insurance.

The report notes the committee believes the county commission has “the responsibility and authority to promote health, safety and welfare of Wood County and residents.”

The committee noted six states address shooting range safety issues, including encouraging or requiring ranges comply with the National Rifle Association range safety standards. The committee could find no counties in West Virginia that have shooting range ordinances.

“The committee believes that safety on shooting ranges should be in line with the NRA Range Source Book and administered by the appropriate ranges,” according to the report. “The committee recommends that permitting for future gun ranges should be established by the county through the existing building permit process with applicable safety codes for approval.”

The committee’s report noted it does not have the authority or the means to conduct and provide a census of all gun ranges in the county.

“It seems really general,” commission President Wayne Dunn noted after reviewing the report on Monday.

Also Monday, Steve Mahaffey, with the Wildwood Homeowners Association, asked the commission about the status of the 30-day cease-and-desist order extension request he presented last week.

The original order issued by the county commission to shut down the Sundowner expires Thursday.

The commissioners plan to discuss the matter at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The agenda notice states they will “discuss a possible extension and or modification of the cease-and-desist order.”

Notice of the scheduled discussion on the agenda will be sent to the Sundowner owner, Kendall Richards.

Prosecutor Jason Wharton told Mahaffey the commissioners have taken his earlier request under advisement and reached no decision.

“There will be no further comment right now,” Wharton said.

“The sheriff’s office was here and said the gun range was unsafe and you said that’s what you based your decision on at that time. Is there any reason for that to change?” Mahaffey asked.

The District Court suit filed on behalf of the Sundowner alleges the range and its owner were damaged by complaints from neighbors, and suffered economic loss after the commissioners issued the 30-day cease-and-desist order for the range.

The commissioners called an executive session on Monday for a teleconference with attorney Wendy Greve, legal counsel for the West Virginia Risk Pool, the county’s liability insurance carrier. County officials said the Wildwood residents would not be covered under the county’s policy, and would have to employ their own legal counsel.

The civil action claims the Gihon Road gun owner’s Second Amendment rights to bear arms and First Amendment rights of free speech were violated by the commissioners.

After listening to complaints from neighbors of the gun range since 2012, the commissioners, on Dec. 16, voted unanimously to issue the 30-day cease-and-desist order.

The county commission and prosecutor were served with notice of the district court legal action on Thursday.

The county has 21 days to file an answer.

The gun range owner maintains his range is in compliance with West Virginia regulations, including West Virginia Department of Natural Resources requirements for shooting ranges, and has been inspected by a National Rifle Association-certified instructor.

Richards is seeking injunctive relief, attorney and court costs, as well as an specified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.