PARKERSBURG - Sundowner Gun Range owner Kendall Richards said his private members-only Gihon Road range is safe, that it presents no danger to nearby residential neighborhoods.
During a meeting last week, representatives of the Wildwood Homeowner's Association and other neighbors lodged complaints about what they contend are bullet holes in their homes, bullets found in various locations and noise of constant gunfire with the range open seven days a week.
"We've had shooting on this property for nearly 20 years and we've had no injuries that I'm aware of, and no confirmed reports of bullets from the range going anywhere," Richards said.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Kendall Richards, right, owner of the Sundowner Gun Range on Gihon Road, tells Wood County commissioners his range is safe, describing the backdrops set up to stop bullets. Richards came to the commission meeting Monday with Charleston attorney James Tinney and several members of his private gun range.
Richards' attorney James Tinney said there is an earthen area built up for safety and large tires set up, that the range has been inspected by the National Rifle Association as well as the Department of Natural Resources and approved by both entities.
Richards said gun range members are given a safety course, must do safety orientation, be NRA members and have no criminal record. He said members must sign in, including the time and type of weapon being used so if any bullets were found outside the gun range they could be checked and traced back to the person who fired the weapon. Tinney said to date there has been no evidence offered to definitively show bullets left the range.
"The sheriff's deputies have been out there. I invited them in, answered their questions, opened up all my records, they didn't take them," Richards said. "The range is safe and there is no evidence otherwise."
"Capt. Smith and I went out there in response to a complaint two years ago and measured and the range is within the legal limits. When we've gotten complaints, they've been referred to the prosecutor," Sheriff Jeff Sandy said.
Raymond Bradley showed commissioners photographs of a hole in the side of his residence on Brooktree Street discovered last fall.
"There is a direct line from gun range to where the bullet hole is in the house," Bradley said. "It's right on the porch, luckily no one was sitting there at the time."
Another resident turned over a bullet he found in the street. Residents said they have filed numerous reports with the sheriff's department. Steve Mahaffey, of Wildwood, said he filed a report after finding a bullet in the street, and it was turned over to the sheriff's department. "They kept the bullet; it was taken to the state police," he said.
Neighbors said they are worried about their children's safety.
"I don't feel safe on my own street. It's not the safe environment you want for your children," said Katrina Stephens.
Richards said he was unaware the commission on Thursday asked the prosecutor, sheriff to look into closing the gun range down at least over the weekend until concerns could be addressed. "I was not aware. I was never served with any court order," he said. County officials said they were advised by Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton they did not have the authority to close the range over the weekend.
Richards said he was asked by Commissioner Wayne Dunn, who visited the range earlier, to add more tires and he had ordered additional tires and was considering suggested additional noise-reduction measures.
"I've tried to work with everything I've been asked to do," Richards said. "I honestly feel it's safe. There has been shooting down there for many years, hundreds of bullets have been fired off at the range and it's just been recently anyone has complained."
Gun range member Allen Fleming said he would not go to the range if he didn't feel it was safe.
Jason Floyd, another range member, said, "People aren't down there going cowboy. There are safety precautions in place. I take my kids there. I would not go there if it wasn't safe."
Gregory Harper, another range member, said he's been shooting for more than 50 years. "I used to shoot competitively and I've shot at probably 100 different ranges all over, and this is one of the safest ranges I've ever been at. I've never seen any gun mishandling while I was there."
"I'm an NRA member too, but I can't believe there can be a gun range in a populous area. It sounds safe, but the people in Wildwood and the trailer park are at a danger. In my opinion, there are bullets that have come from the gun range. It's a terrible situation and there has to be something we can do," said Commissioner Steve Gainer.
Wharton provided the commissioners a copy of state code, which gives commissions authority to enact 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 and "may be applicable to the county in its entirety or any portion of the county as considered appropriate by the county commission."
"I heard a lot of people here today talking about their Second Amendment rights, but the citizens also have the constitutional right to petition their government for redress of grievances and that's what they are doing," commission President Blair Couch said.
"The business is creating quite a nuisance, and there is a perceived threat, if not a real one. We could develop an ordinance and shut you down, or find a workable solution," Dunn said, noting there are numerous NRA regulations that could be applied to make the range safer and less of a noise problem. "I think the burden falls on the gun range to assure safety and assure it's not a nuisance."
"I'll do whatever it takes to make it safer, and I'm willing to do any noise-reduction procedures suggested," Richards said. "I'm willing to work with you all, but I'm not going to close it down."
The commissioners took no action Monday.
"We will investigate further, visit the range, review the code Jason has provided and let all the parties know what we decide," Couch said. The commissioners, attorneys and homeowners association officials plan to visit the range next Monday.