Gun and land rights may lead to a legal showdown at High Noon.
High Noon Gun Range, a pistol and rifle range near Noonday, and its operators are being sued in civil court and accused violating the state’s Health and Safety Code.
Texas law requires that “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.”
Last week, a former NRA Range Source author, Richard Whiting, made what officials called a “damning” assessment of the range based on photographic evidence.
However, the range owners dispute Whiting’s finding and believe the range is in compliance with all state laws.
Whiting’s conclusion was the range is “improperly located for the site in question” based on the lack of an appropriate design for a facility located in an area surrounded by homes. The range facilities were “not designed to contain all bullets and shot fired on club property,” he wrote.
Whitting said the gun range should be moved to a location that does not threaten lives or property or the operators should invest in safety and sound abatement upgrades to continue operating at the site.
The Smith County district attorney filed suit against the range’s owners, their wives and the landowner Tuesday because the facility “does not comply with construction standards that are at least compliant and recognized” by the NRA. Failure to comply with the law within 60 days will result in a $50-a-day fine up to $500.
However, the state’s attorney general, in an opinion, said the law was unconstitutional because private entities such as the NRA cannot set the standards by which the state enforces its laws.
Residents surrounding the range, which opened in January, made numerous complaints regarding “the lack of safety precautions at High Noon Gun Range and the strong possibility that stray bullets could reach the residences and potentially severely injure both adults and children,” according to the suit.
There also were complaints about noise and loss of property values.
Market property values for more than a dozen properties were reduced 30 percent, more than $850,000 by the Smith County Appraisal District recently. The reduction reduced property tax revenues around $15,000 to $20,000.
Chief Appraiser Mike Barnett said the initial reduction was based on preliminary evaluation of the situation. He said he expects more protests to be filed.
High Noon Gun Range co-owner Don Layton said he contacted the NRA about the situation. He would not confirm whether conversations with the association were regarding legal counsel or safety recommendations regarding the range.
Layton questioned Whiting’s credentials and his assessment. Whiting is not associated with the NRA but remains a firearm and gun range consultant. He was one of several authors of the association’s initial gun range source book and has more than 30 years experience on ranges across the nation.
Layton said the range manual no longer is in use by the NRA.
Attempts by the Tyler Morning Telegraph to reach the NRA regarding Whiting’s assessment, range safety guidelines and the suit went unanswered.
Layton called vocal opposition to the gun range by more than a dozen homeowners near the site “harassment” but did not want to comment on the district attorney’s action.
“I’m sick of it all to tell you the truth,” he said.
Layton said gun range members and supporters believe the range is “not getting a fair shake.” He said the range complies with safety standards, is endorsed by the NRA and carries the $500,000 liability insurance policy required by state law. Layton said he would like Whiting to be called to testify because his assessment was made based on photographs taken by people who oppose the range.
Based on the law, Layton said he believes the range is legal. He said the worst case scenario is that he will pay up to a $500 fine this year.
The Smith County District Attorney’s office refused further comment on the matter. Attorneys do not comment on pending cases, District Attorney Matt Bingham said.
A date for the hearing has not been set.
David Ball, one of the concerned homeowners, said he hopes the action by the district attorney brings resolution to the problem.
“We’re still concerned with the safety on the range and the safety of our children,” he said.