Gun Range Committee discussion tabled

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners tabled further discussion of potential gun range regulations and further direction to their appointed gun range committee until Feb. 10.

The commissioners have appointed a committee to research possible regulations to govern gun ranges in the county. The committee has had one meeting so far. The report submitted by the committee notes 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 with 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,” according to the report.

Committee members also noted they do 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.

Commissioner Blair Couch said he saw the mission of the committee more as “fitting the pieces of the puzzle together,” then making recommendations with the “advice and consent of Jason (Wharton, the prosecutor),” Couch said.

“The commissioners are the legislative body, you all need to come up with some direction about what you want done. I’d simply be drafting it for you,” Wharton said of his role in the process.

“I want something as simple as possible. So far the committee has recommended the NRA standards, and a permitting process through the existing permit procedures,” Couch said. “But it’s not really for them to develop an ordinance.”

Commission President Wayne Dunn noted Wharton gathered copies of regulations from other areas, adding he found from North Carolina that might be worth considering.

“It’s worth reviewing these in development of an ordinance for the gun ranges. There is a lot of different information, some of it is very broad, there are lots of alternatives. If the commission takes all of it, and then decides what we need and develop something from that,” Dunn said, noting he felt some federal regulations that had been provided were “too complicated and would be too expensive.”

“My main concern is abiding by the NRA standards,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

No new meeting date or time has been set for another committee meeting.

“They said they wanted us to respond to their report, they are waiting for more questions to consider,” Couch told fellow commissioners.

“My goal is just not to have a repeat of the Sundowner. We just need a process whereby the public is aware when a gun range is coming into their area. The regulations could be similar to land use regulations like the ones for residential development, where it goes before the planning commission for inspection and permits are issued. I’m all for simple, something to provide a trip wire effect so everyone is aware, with plans being submitted for review and evaluation,” Couch said.

“I’m hearing about ranges out there with no gates, no fencing, no signage,” Couch said.

Wharton suggested the commission table the matter until the commissioners have reviewed the ordinances from other areas.

Gainer said it was his understanding the committee appointed by the commissioners was to make some recommendations. “Then we could say if accept them or not.”

“That was my understanding as well, to let them do it,” Dunn said.

The commissioners agreed to place the matter on their Feb. 10 agenda for further discussion.

On Jan. 16, the commission 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 on Jan. 16. The commissioners voted to require the Sundowner to obtain an evaluation from the NRA Range Technical Team Advisors 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.

The commissioners agreed to pay for the cost of the evaluation by the advisory team which could be $250-$300 or more depending on the length of the visit.

The NRA Range Technical Team is a nationwide network of volunteers trained in the field of shooting range development, design, and operation. Services provided by Range Technical Team Advisors include: range planning assistance, range use and procedural evaluations, and range safety and design evaluations.

The Sundowner Gun Range and its owner Kendall Richards have 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 also claims the owner’s Second Amendment rights to bear arms and First Amendment rights of free speech were also violated by the commissioners. The commissioners, prosecutor, sheriff, Wildwood Subdivision Homeowner’s Association as well as “unnamed” residents were named as defendants.

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

Neighbors of the Gihon Road gun range have filed complaints since 2012 alleging they found bullets fired from the range on their property.

Dunn told his fellow commissioners Monday complaints lodged earlier by Bill McDonald, who lives next door to the Fort Boreman Rifle Club on Meadville Road, have been dropped.

“The dispute has been resolved. He met with officials from the club and the club has agreed the lower part of the range will be moved, as far as we know, that’s being done. I have talked with Mr. McDonald and he is satisfied with the solution,” Dunn said.