Fight over gun range headed to court

PARKERSBURG – The Sundowner Gun Range and owner Kendall Richards have filed a civil action in U.S. District Court alleging the range and its owner have been damaged by complaints from neighbors and suffered economic loss after a cease-and-desist order issued by the Wood County Commission shut down the range.

The civil action also claims the owner’s Second Amendment rights to bear arms and First Amendment rights of free speech were also 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 a 30-day cease-and-desist order against the Gihon Road business.

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

Prosecutor Jason Wharton said the county has 21 days to file an answer.

“We are in the process now of reviewing it and will file any necessary motions or answers that need to be filed,” Wharton said. The civil action documents have also been forwarded to the county’s insurance carrier for review.

Wharton declined further comment because it is a pending legal action.

The civil action names County Commissioners Wayne Dunn, Steve Gainer and Dave Couch, Wharton, Sheriff Ken Merritt, the Wildwood Subdivision Homeowner’s Association and other “unnamed” residents as defendants.

According to the complaint, Richards operates the private gun range for members’ use and the range is in compliance with all West Virginia regulations including the state Department of Natural Resource for shooting ranges and has been inspected by a National Rifle Association-certified instructor.

The legal action claims members of the gun range are “offered instruction with regard to safety and the proper use of their respective firearms prior to being admitted to use the range.”

To date, there has not been a legal claim made against the range for bodily or property injury occurring on the property, according to the civil action. It also notes “there has not been a single legal demand for damages made against the range for bodily or property injury.”

The civil action alleges the range falls within an exemption of the state code and is “immune from a nuisance suit.”

Richards also claims a video surveillance system at the range, when matched with shooter logs, “would allow any claimed bullet strike to be investigated” and that the sheriff’s department viewed the files.

The civil action states Richards installed additional safety measures as requested and alleges there was a campaign by Wildwood subdivision residents to “detrimentally affect” the range and that statements attributed to the residents have “vilified Mr. Richards and the law-abiding citizens who are members of the range,” including “false assertions” by Wildwood residents that bullets from the range were found in homes, businesses, trees and on the streets.

“As a result of the actions of the defendants, plaintiff has suffered economic losses, including loss of business and other resulting expenses,” according to the complaint filed on behalf of the Sundowner.

Richards alleges the county’s cease-and-desist order was improperly filed and is “arbitrary and unreasonable,” noting also no similar action has been taken against other gun ranges or individuals.

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

The cease-and-desist order is set to expire next week.

The county commissioners have appointed a committee to research possible regulations to govern gun ranges in the county.