DAVISVILLE - As a disabled veteran and former police officer familiar with guns and gun ranges, when Bill McDonald moved into his Meadville farm last September he wasn't that concerned there was a private gun range next door.
"I'm a retired New Jersey state correctional officer. I was a state patrolman and a veteran so I've spent a considerable amount of time around weapons and on gun ranges. From about 1981 when I was a state patrolman, then in the Department of Corrections, we had to go to the range regularly to qualify. Typically there were range officers watching over those who were firing and safety officers who made sure everyone was following the rules at the range," McDonald said.
He became concerned with the Fort Boreman Rifle Club next door after he and his wife, Debbie, who is also ex-military, heard weapons other than shotguns, pistols and rifles being fired at the range, saw the range appeared to be unsupervised and heard shots being fired at the range at all hours.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Bill McDonald, who lives next door to the Fort Boreman Rifle Club on Meadville Road, used a laser to measure the distance between his residence and the shooting area of the gun range. McDonald said the range is less than the standard 500-foot requirement for safety.
"They say they have set hours of operation, but there are people in there at all times of the day and night. There is no supervision; anyone can and has just driven in there. They shoot on Sundays and holidays. The impact area where they shoot is deteriorating and some of the neighbors are concerned about the lead from the bullets getting into the water. No one seems to be monitoring the comings and goings of vehicles or the people in them," McDonald said.
"We've also seen people going in there with alcohol," his wife, Debbie McDonald, said.
Mr. McDonald said he doesn't want the county to close down the range.
"I have no problem with people shooting recreational weapons or practicing target shooting, and they have more than enough property over there to go further into the hollow and have adequate natural coverage to assure the bullets won't go astray. Some of our neighbors are elderly and they are even afraid to go into certain parts of their property because of the possibility of being hit," McDonald said.
McDonald used a laser to measure the distance between buildings on his property and the firing area of the gun range and found it was less than the national standard of 500 feet. He contends the backdrop being fired into on the gun range does not meet national standards.
McDonald said petitions signed by neighbors have been mailed to county officials about the neighbors' concerns.
"We just wanted a little farm; we have horses, chickens, cats, dogs; it's nice out here," McDonald said. "I was told when we moved in here by neighbors that nothing could be done about the gun range because it was grandfathered in and had been in operation for many years."
McDonald said he had lodged complaints on several occasions with rifle club officers. But after reading in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel about concerns raised regarding the Gihon Road Sundowner Gun Range and the county considering regulations for gun ranges, he decided to take his complaints to the county commission, sheriff and prosecutor.
"I know people who have fired on that range and are not members of their club," he said. "I'm not looking to have the gun range closed down permanently. I am looking for safety issues to be implemented, so that the range meets all safety procedures for ranges, including having the correct amount of footage from dwellings or having them place ballistic curtains or walls between the properties and the range so that our safety can be assured. An accidental misfire can occur and it is impossible to call back that round from any weapon."
His main concern is "a stray round hitting my family."
"We could live with the noise at first, but then it just kept getting worse and worse," McDonald said. "They are bringing much larger caliber weapons over there; why do they need that big a weapon at a gun range?" he said.
McDonald said he has contacted the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources regarding the club.
Jim Carez, secretary/treasurer with the Fort Boreman Rifle Club, said the club, which has 400 members, is private, for-members-only.
"Each club member is required to have a membership card and to display it while they are at the gun range. We don't allow alcohol on the range. There is a lengthy list of rules they are required to follow. They have to sign a list of those rules to become a member. We have hardly any trouble out there and we've been at that location since 1968," Carez said.
The rifle club has been around since 1939 and the gun range has been at three different locations.
Carez said he has been contacted by McDonald several times.
"We never had a complaint before, and I've been in the club for 10 years," Carez said.
Carez said there is a caretaker who lives in a house on the range.
"He (McDonald) complained they were shooting on Sunday; the rules require them not to shoot until afternoon on Sunday. There is no regulation about holidays; the regular hours are 8 a.m. until dark and Sunday, noon until dark," Carez said.
Carez said fully automatic firearms are not permitted on the range, no machine guns, only rifles, shotguns, pistols. He said most people shoot pistols and rifles.
Carez said the club hadn't received complaints until the publicity emerged about the neighbors complaining about the Sundowner Gun Range.
"We saw the newspaper stories and that's why we came into the county commission when we saw they were considering regulations for all the gun ranges. That's why we asked at the meeting why they don't just address the one gun range that's being complained about," he said.
The county commissioners have issued a 30-day cease-and-desist order for the Sundowner Gun Range after continuing safety concerns from neighbors were lodged.
The neighbors showed the commissioners bullets found on their residential and commercial properties which they contend were fired from the Gihon Road gun range.
The commissioners asked Prosecutor Jason Wharton to research gun range regulations in other areas. Copies of those regulations have been submitted to the commissioners.
An inventory of gun ranges in the county doesn't exist and the commission is considering forming a committee to survey the locations of all the ranges. Rather than spot zone one range, the group would address regulations that would encompass all the gun ranges.
Public hearings will be held on proposed regulations.
McDonald said he intends to meet with the county commissioners about his concerns relating to the Fort Boreman Rifle Club.