Committee to recommend gun range regulations

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners have finalized their appointments to a committee which will be asked to review gun range regulations from other areas and come up with a proposed ordinance for the county.

The commissioners, on Dec. 16, issued a 30-day cease-and-desist order against the Sundowner Gun Range. The Gihon Road range has been the subject of complaints by neighbors, residential and commercial, for more than a year. The residents claim bullets from the range have been found on their property.

Steve Mahaffey, president of the Wildwood Residents’ Association, a housing development near the range, asked county commissioners Monday to consider imposing an additional 30 day cease-and-desist order, “or for whatever time period the county commission might deem appropriate.”

“We will probably deal with your request once the earlier order is up,” commission President Wayne Dunn told Mahaffey.

“I don’t think the committee will be ready to make its recommendations by mid-January,” Commissioner Blair Couch noted.

Prosecutor Jason Wharton reminded commissioners the issue was not on their agenda Monday so not decisions or action could be taken at Monday’s meeting.

“We have asked the prosecutor to contact the Sundowner’s attorney and ask them to get with us. The ball is in their court now,” Dunn said.

Wharton said he had not yet received any reply from the gun range owner’s attorney.

“We want to be fair and give the gun range owner a chance to respond,” Dunn said.

Sundowner gun range owner Kendall Richards has contended there is nothing unsafe about his gun range. He allowed the commissioners, attorneys and some residents to tour the facility earlier and voluntarily came to the sheriff’s department to be served the cease-and-desist order after the sheriff’s department was unsuccessful in making service.

Bill McDonald, who lives next door to the Fort Boreman Rifle Club on Meadville Road, met with the commission on Monday as well. McDonald, who is a veteran and former police officer and familiar with guns and run ranges, offered his services on the commission’s gun range committee.

McDonald said he was concerned about the safety of his family since his abode is closer than the 500-foot recommended distance from the point of firing at the range. He contended the gun club’s regulations were not be followed, and there was inadequate supervision of the range.

“I’m not trying to shut it down, and I’m not complaining about noise, I just want it to be safe so, God forbid, no one gets hurt,” McDonald told commissioners. He told the county officials there are elderly neighbors who are afraid to come out of their homes. McDonald earlier submitted a petition to the commission signed by himself and other residents who live in the area of the private gun club expressing their concerns for what they see as a lack of supervision, and dangerous conditions at the gun club.

“We’ve seen abuse of their rules and it just takes one negligent misfire to kill somebody,” McDonald told the commission.

“No matter what we do, there can still be an incident,” Dunn said.

“I, for one, wouldn’t vote to put you on the committee, besides, we already have enough people, we don’t want too many on the committee,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

Jim Carez, secretary/treasurer with the Fort Boreman Rifle Club, earlier said the club, which has 400 members, is private, for-members-only and that each member is required to have a membership card and abide by regulations for the range. He said the club has been around since 1939 and the gun range has been at three different locations.

Carez said the club hadn’t received complaints until the publicity emerged about the neighbors complaining about the Sundowner Gun Range.

Couch noted for an established range, there is a time frame for neighbors to file nuisance/noise complaints.

“I understand your concern, we are looking at coming up with rules, regulations for new gun ranges, it’s harder to fix once they’ve gone forward,” Couch said. “It’s a tough deal for the county commission to address.”

By code, the county can create ordinances “for the elimination of hazards to public health and safety and to abate anything which the commission determines to be public nuisance.” The ordinance may provide for a misdemeanor penalty. It “may be applicable to the county in its entirety or any portion of the county as considered appropriate by the county commission.”

Dunn said the recommendations will come to the commission, then be sent to the prosecutor for review.

“If we decide to proceed, we would have readings and conduct public meetings, and hope to have the proposals posted on the county website,” Couch said.

The committee is advisory in nature, and represents a cross-section of people, Couch said.

Couch and Dunn both stated they would not be in favor of “anything that’s very extensive.”

Couch said requiring insurance coverage and notification when a new range intends to locate in the county, possibly inspection by the NRA, might be among the provisions.

The list of committee members provided by the county commission on Monday includes: Bill Carroll, with the NRA; Greg Smith, a veteran, who told commissioners he has a gun range on his property; Jim Fox, Wood County Board of Education member; Charlie Nelson, Steve Mahaffey and Nick Bradley, with the Wildwood Homeowners Association; Jim Carez, with the Fort Boreman Rifle Club; Scott Cain, with Cain’s Outdoors; Rick Sutton, Mountain State Sports; Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt; Dan Hylbert, an NRA-certified gun instructor, and Bob Buchanan, with the Mountwood Park board. Mountwood Park also has a shooting range.

The commissioners said they want a survey to identify all the existing ranges in the county and Couch noted an earlier suggestion to develop a definition of a gun range was also something that should be addressed.