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Problems coming to a gun range near you?

By Joel M. Vance
Noise is in the ear of the beholder and urban sprawl has a ripple effect. Say what? OK, how’s your favorite shooting range doing? Still there? Had to move? Surrounded by grumpy neighbors?
It’s a widespread problem graphically demonstrated by what happened to the Cedar Creek Gun Club. Anyone who was at the OWAA conference in Columbia, Mo, knows Cedar Creek – it was the site of Breakout Day, among the finest such sites ever with superb shooting facilities, a lake for water sports and a large field for exhibitors/supporters.
Since that 2004 triumph, Cedar Creek has been sued, lost the suit, reformed under a new Missouri law that nullified the $700,000 judgment against the club … and has gone green by using solar panels to power its sporting clays traps.
Whew! What a ride!
Actually, the panels don’t directly power the throwers – they recharge the automobile batteries that do. The first panels cost just under $80 each and the price dropped to just under $40 on later ones. Club operator Ralph Gates estimates the solar panels could save as much as $2,000 annually.
There are about 50 of them, all movable according to need and weather conditions. Each is mounted on a metal stake and can tilt to follow the sun. Sometimes it takes two linked panels to run one trap.
“If we were building the club now I’d have solar power for the building itself and a ground-source heat pump for heating and cooling, but retrofitting it is too expensive,” Gates says.
The club now is Prairie Grove Shooting Sports. The University of Missouri trap and skeet team trains there and Gates is the coach. The team always is nationally ranked – in 2008 the Mizzou team finished third nationally in skeet (behind another Missouri team, St. Louis’ Lindenwood College in first and Texas A&M second). Haley Dunn, the Mizzou team’s high shooter, missed making the 2008 U.S. Olympic skeet team by one target behind Kim Rhode of El Monte, Calif., who has been the Olympic gold medalist three times (Dunn was the Pan Am Games skeet champ).
But it all could have gone in the toilet if the Missouri Legislature hadn’t passed a law against harassing lawsuits against shooting venues.
Complainants Daniel and Donna Brown – alone of a dozen neighbors – sued the club in 2008, claiming noise was a nuisance, and a Boone County jury levied a $700,000 judgment against the club.
The nonprofit gun club opened in 1993, before the complaining neighbor moved next door in 1996, although the house was occupied before that.
The house is about 600 yards from the shooting range.
No other neighbor had ever complained and most offered to testify in favor of the club. Coincident with the suit, the Missouri Legislature overwhelmingly passed a law prohibiting such nuisance suits. “Give credit to the 4-H clubs,” Gates says. “They lobbied hard for the law and deluged the legislators with e-mails and letters.”
The new Missouri statute immunizes “all owners and authorized users of firearm ranges” from criminal and civil liability “arising out of or as a consequence of noise or sound emission resulting from the use” of a shooting range. There are similar laws elsewhere – Pennsylvania has one similar to Missouri’s, and Wisconsin protects gun clubs in business before 1998 but not new or expanded ones.
The legislation protects not only gun clubs but also hunting preserves from suits that claim noise from shooting is a nuisance. Such suits are nothing new, either in Missouri or nationally. There are complaint suits from every part of the country.
Most targeted gun clubs started many years ago on the fringes of urban areas, but urban expansion has swallowed them up and with the new neighbors has come friction. In some cases the complainants just want the shooting hours limited, but in others they want the range shut down completely. Most cite noise as the problem, but some are worried about safety, although a well-run shooting range poses no threat to anyone.
The Conservation Department operates about 80 firing ranges statewide which could have been the object of complaints before the new law.
“There are at least four Missouri gun clubs that are mighty happy about the new law,” Gates says.
Not to mention various 4-H clubs, the University of Missouri trap and skeet team, the members at Prairie Grove and the shotgun shooting world in general.
joel-vance-clr-mugJoel M. Vance, a past president of OWAA, is a freelance writer and former information officer for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He writes from Russellville, Mo.
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