A Noonday rifle and pistol range was deemed “unsuitable” and a jeopardy to “property and neighbors living in the surrounding areas,” a National Rifle Association Range Manual author said this past week.
In the assessment, Whitlock said his opinion was based on the evidence alone and should not be construed as final without an on-site evaluation.
The secondary safety fan would include wooden baffles surrounding the range to prevent bullets fired at 27 degrees to 32 degrees from parallel from exiting the range.
Other NRA safety recommendations, such as enclosed bunkers or overhead baffles, which act as an extended ceiling to prevent errant bullets from escaping, were “either not considered or ruled inappropriate due to costs,” Whiting wrote.
In a phone interview, Whiting said safety is paramount. The fundamental rule is to keep bullets on the range, he said.
“The people who put the range there have the responsibility to protect the people around the range,” he said.
SAYS SITE SAFE
Owner Don Layton remained adamant that the range is safe. Layton challenged Whiting's assessment. Safety professionals with range design experience teach classes at the facility and believe it was properly constructed, he said.
The brewing controversy and homeowner opposition to the range is “nothing more than harassment,” Layton said. He said he would welcome an on-site assessment and discussion with Whiting regarding safety.
Layton said he expects the harassment from residents who “can't get their way” to continue. Complaints about noise and concerns about stray bullets are overstated, he said. He stands by the state law that prevents civil and criminal penalties against gun range owners.
Under the Texas Local Government Code, a “a government official may not seek civil or criminal penalty against sport shooting ranges, businesses, private clubs or associations operating in an area where firearms can be used for recreational, target or self-defense, if no applicable noise ordinances, order or rules exist.”
“People have been shooting out there for 30 years and would continue shooting if we weren't there,” Layton said. “If they don't like the shooting they shouldn't have moved out there. They should move to the city and deal with the sirens and honking horns.”
David Ball lives closest to the range. The basketball goal where his children play is 650 feet northeast of the range, he said.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Health, Safety and Security lists maximum bullet trajectories for several small arms, including pistols and rifles, in its “Range Design Criteria.” Bullets from a 9mm pistol can travel more than a mile, while bullets from rifles can travel up to two miles, the report said.
Ball said he is not an expert on ballistics or ranges and requested an assessment by Whiting. He said he has been an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment and has hunted his entire life, but he added that rights and responsibility do not coincide in this instance.
“The right to bear arms comes with responsibility,” he said. “The range should have never been built there in the first place. It's situations such as this that put gun ownership rights in jeopardy.”
Texas law requires “an owner of an outdoor shooting range shall construct and maintain the range according to standards that are at least as stringent as the standards printed in the National Rifle Association range manual.”
The NRA range source book recommends shooting ranges be built at least a half mile from homes. It also lists a myriad of safety recommendations Whiting said were either not considered or not applied due to costs.
“The range is situated in such a fashion as to create a clear and present danger to properties immediately down range,” Whiting wrote in correspondence with Ball.
Ball retained attorneys who sent a memo to the Smith County District Attorney's office arguing that the range does not meet NRA standards and therefore does not comply with the law. District Attorney Matt Bingham said enforcement is complicated because the law was found unconstitutional in a state attorney general opinion, which determined a private entity could not define state enforcement standards.
Even if the district attorney becomes involved, Bingham said, there are limitations to civil penalties that could be assessed the range owners. The maximum penalty for non-compliance by the range is $50 per day and would not exceed $500, by state law.
Bingham said the conflict within state laws would make any action against the range “complicated.”
Last week the Smith County Appraisal District reduced market valuations for more than a dozen properties near the range by 30 percent, equaling more than $850,000. Chief Appraiser Mike Barnett said the district action was made to recognize the range has negatively impacted market values in the area. Barnett said he expects more valuation protests as appraisers work throughout the year to determine the extent factors such as noise, bullet trajectories and nuisance could decrease values around the range.
Whiting said that aside from concerns regarding the physical safety features of the range, the NRA recommends administrative control of the range site. He said a range master should be on site at all times to ensure proper handling of firearms.
High Noon Gun Range is open to members who pay $250 annual dues. Dues pay for upkeep, new targets, NRA membership and return the owner's investment.
Layton said he wants to limit access to 100 reliable members. Its membership, he said, continues to grow. Members have keyed access to the range and are free to come and go.
“That's worse,” Whiting said. “People do stupid things. You have to have administrative control. You could have someone throwing jugs up in the air (to shoot at). You would think common sense would stop a person from doing that, but it doesn't.”
Layton said members are not novices and understand their responsibility as shooters. Karl
Artmire, co-owner of High Noon, however, previously admitted that stupidity can't always be guarded against.
In conjunction with safety concerns, Whiting said the range's design fails to address noise, which is also an NRA consideration regarding homes in close proximity. Consistent and concentrated noise is neighbors' main complaint.
Whiting recommends the range be relocated “to an area where the facility does not pose a threat to neighbors” or that the owners “invest a substantial amount of capital” to address sound abatement and “engineering controls capable of containing all bullets or shot fired on both the rifle and pistol ranges.”
Layton said the range will not be relocated.
“They can buy us out,” he said. “They could make us a big offer.”