Once again, the Washington Legislature is considering a measure that would protect shooting ranges, which are increasingly threatened by suburban sprawl that did not exist years ago when those facilities were originally constructed.
Range protection bills have twice been passed in recent history only to have the sitting governors – both Democrats – veto the legislation. Perhaps, backers hope, the third time will be charmed.
House Bill 1508 is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Commitee on Thursday during a public hearing beginning at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room A of the John L. O’Brien building. This column has been advised that opponents of the measure from Kitsap County will be appearing, because of their concerns and alleged problems with the Kitsap Rifle & Revolver Club (KRRC) range.
Joe Waldron, representing the Gun Owners Action League, has already sent a statement to members of the committee, as he will be unable to attend. The KRRC has alerted its members to attend.
There are dozens of shooting ranges across Washington, most of them not-for-profit gun clubs. The benefits they provide to the citizens of this state extend far beyond the members of these organizations. Every member of society wins when gun owners are afforded a safe place to practice, and to prepare for safe hunting in the field.—Joe Waldron, GOAL
Protecting shooting ranges is nothing new, and it should be a non-partisan issue. Gun ranges across the country, and especially in the East, have faced problems for years. It’s the same story, over and over again, and the problem in the West has been compounded by shooting prohibitions on public land, primarily national forest land, where traditional, albeit impromptu, shooting areas have been posted by local ranger districts. In east King County, following a closure of shooting along the Snoqualmie Middle Fork and I-90 corridors, recreational shooting is prohibited just about anywhere one can drive a vehicle. The one remaining area, an old gravel pit near the top of the Hansen Creek Road, was closed in order to turn it into a trailhead parking lot.
A person who acquires title to or who owns real property adversely affected by the use of property with a permanently located and improved sport shooting range shall not maintain a nuisance action against the person who owns the range to restrain, enjoin, or impede the use of the range where there has not been a substantial change in the nature of the use of the range. This subsection does not prohibit actions for negligence or recklessness in the operation of the range or by a person using the range.
A sport shooting range that is operated and is not in violation of existing law at the time of the enactment of an ordinance must be permitted to continue in operation even if the operation of the sport shooting range at a later date does not conform to the new ordinance or an amendment to an existing ordinance.—HB 1508
Back in the 1930s, 40s or 50s, gun ranges were built in undeveloped areas and as far away from cities and towns as possible. They operated for years with no problems, providing generations of shooters with safe, convenient places to enjoy their recreational shooting. These same range facilities often were the only venues for local law enforcement training, and firearm safety and hunter education courses for the general public.
Then developers moved in, with new housing developments and strip malls or shopping centers and business parks. People moved into these areas, and were either not advised by realtors that a gun range was nearby, or had full knowledge of a local range and “discovered” they did not care for the sound of gunfire.
This body has passed range protection legislation twice in the past 18 years — in 1994 when the legislature was under Democrat control, and in 1998 when Republicans were in charge. Unfortunately, both times the sitting Governor chose to veto the bills, a decision I believe was short-sighted at best.—Joe Waldron. GOAL
Suddenly, these gun ranges, where there had never been problems before, became accident zones. Neighbors would complain about bullets hitting their homes. In one case related to this writer a few years ago, one gun range critic showed up at a local town council meeting with an unfired cartridge, insisting that it landed on his yard after flying out of the nearby gun range that had been built decades before. That particular range was surrounded by tall trees and it would have been virtually impossible for a projectile to exit the range at the alleged angle of trajectory and land on this guy’s property, much less a complete live round.
The National Rifle Association has gone to considerable lengths to develop range safety guidelines aimed at preventing errant projectiles from leaving designated gun ranges, and to reduce noise from ranges.
Millions of citizens own firearms and like to shoot them for recreation. They prefer to do it safely. Other states have adopted range protection legislation. Washington is overdue, considering the growth this state has witnessed (some say “suffered”) over the past 20 years.
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