Gun range committee makeup challenged

PARKERSBURG – A resident who lives next to the Fort Boreman Rifle Club in Wood County has challenged the makeup of a newly formed committee studying regulations.

William G. McDonald has cited safety problems with the range.

The county commission has formed a committee to review proposed regulations for ranges. He said he is satisfied a committee was formed, but questioned having representatives of the club on it.

“The committee was formed to look into the safety of the ranges; it’s weird the commissioners chose officers with the club to serve on the committee,” McDonald said.

“I don’t think it should be comprised of anyone who is involved with the two ranges that were being questioned; they could sway the opinions of the other committee members. While it’s important to have a committee, it should be comprised of people who are unbiased, have no connection with the ranges, to make an intelligent, informed, professional opinion,” McDonald said.

“They have contended all along there is nothing wrong so they will continue saying that.”

McDonald said the committee should be comprised of those who have an expertise in firearms and range safety and “have no affiliation with any of the two ranges being complained about to make an unbiased opinion of what is safe and what is not.”

McDonald said he plans to write to the county commission asking for the removal of those members he feels should not be serving on the committee.

McDonald, who said he is a veteran, former police and correctional officer and is familiar with gun ranges in other states, volunteered Monday to serve on the committee. McDonald lives next door to the Fort Boreman Rifle Club and has been outspoken in his criticism of that range.

During Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Steve Gainer told McDonald the committee membership had already been chosen.

A list of committee members provided by the commission on Monday is Bill Carroll, with the NRA; Greg Smith, a certified gun instructor and veteran; 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 of Mountain State Sports; Sheriff Ken Merritt; Dan Hylbert, an NRA-certified gun instructor, and Bob Buchanan with the Mountwood Park board. Mountwood Park has a public shooting range.

Commissioner Blair Couch said Wednesday the committee held its first meeting Monday evening and will be reporting to the commission on its status.

Couch said the committee includes three Wildwood Homeowners Association members. The association has been complaining for more than a year about the Sundowner Gun Range.

The county commissioners in mid-December issued a 30-day cease-and-desist order for the Gihon Road range.

“The committee is advisory in nature; we need all voices heard. I think we have a good cross-section of representation,” Couch said.

“I specifically recommended Greg Smith and Bob Buchanan. Bob is the president of the Mountwood Park board; the park has the only public gun range in Wood County and Greg is a certified gun instructor,” Couch said.

“The whole idea behind this is to make sure the gun ranges operate in a safe manner in adherence with NRA standards, to allow the county commission to be notified when a new gun range is opening. Public safety is the paramount issue. The regulations could act as a trip wire for the commission so we can plan it through,” Couch said.

An issue that might be considered for an ordinance could be a building permit system for new ranges.

“We could require a building permit, then it could potentially go to the planning commission, just like the developer of a new subdivision has to go before the planning commission,” Couch said. “It would be for the public benefit, not a high hurdle, just check and balances.”

“The second item I was interested in, whether it’s public or private, would be to require a certificate of insurance. The NRA has range safety standard guidelines, recognized as a safe way to operate, be it a public or private range. We want to create an atmosphere where safety is paramount, for the participants at the range and the neighbors,” Couch said.

Couch said there are no counties in West Virginia that have gun range regulations.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity to develop something for the future, to set a procedure so ranges are developed in a safe manner,” Couch said. “As far as the committee is concerned, it’s more the product that will stand up, that will be the test.”