Gun range closed pending compliance with NRA regs

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners voted to continue a cease-and-desist order against the Sundowner Gun Range until the range complies with National Rifle Association regulations.

A previously issued 30-day cease-and-desist order for the Gihon Road business was set to expire Thursday.

After a motion was made Thursday to extend the cease-and-desist order, Prosecutor Jason Wharton requested an executive session with commissioners, citing attorney/client privilege as the reason for the closed-door meeting.

Following the executive session, commissioners voted to require the gun range to obtain an evaluation from the NRA Range Technical Team Advisers and are requiring a copy of the evaluation be provided to the county to prove compliance with the recommendations.

The Sundowner gun range is to remain closed until the evaluation is done and compliance is proven.

Also Thursday, on the motion of Commissioner Steve Gainer, the commissioners agreed to pay for the cost of the evaluation by the advisory team.

According to the NRA website, the cost for NRA-Affiliated Clubs/Organizations is $250 Case Origination Fee and includes one day of on-site assistance ($100 for each additional day of service). Case fees are inclusive of expenses incurred relative to transportation, lodging, meals, telephone, for initial visit and follow-up visits.

For Non-NRA Affiliated Clubs/Organizations, the case origination fee is $300, with $100 for each additional day of services.

Neither the Sundowner owner nor his legal counsel attended Thursday’s commission meeting.

Residents who have lodged complaints with the commissioners and police since 2012 about bullets on their properties thanked the commissioners for their actions.

According to the NRA, the NRA Range Technical Team is a nationwide network of volunteers trained in the field of shooting range development, design, and operations. Services provided by Range Technical Team Advisers include range planning assistance, range use and procedural evaluations, and range safety and design evaluations.

Wharton said there would be no further comment due to pending legal action.

The Sundowner Gun Range and its owner Kendall Richards earlier filed a civil action in U.S. District Court alleging the range and Richards were damaged by complaints from neighbors, and suffered economic loss after the original cease-and-desist order was issued by the county commission in December shutting down the range.

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

The civil action names the three commissioners, prosecutor, sheriff, Wildwood Subdivision Homeowners Association as well as “unnamed” residents as defendants.

According to the complaint, Richards operates the private gun range for members’ use and the range is in compliance with West Virginia regulations including West Virginia Department of Natural Resources requirements for shooting ranges, and has been inspected by an NRA-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,” and states to date, there has not been a single legal claim made against the range for bodily or property injury occurring on the property.

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.”

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.

The legal action 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 a specified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.

The county commissioners have appointed a committee to research possible regulations to govern gun ranges in the county. The committee has had an original meeting and provided a report to the county.

“They really haven’t decided anything, it appears,” commission President Wayne Dunn commented Thursday on the report. “What should they be doing next?”

Commissioner Blair Couch suggested the commissioners review the report, then provide a series of questions to the committee and discuss it with Wharton.

Couch noted the gun range advisory committee needs to make sure there is public notice for the meetings and that an agenda for the meetings is made available.

The report, submitted earlier to the commission, states the 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 NRA 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. 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 the committee does not have the authority or the means to conduct and provide a census of all gun ranges in the county, another request from the commission.