Shooting range protection - The noisy wheel gets the shaft

By Jeff Knox

Range protection is a hot topic these days and it's becoming more important every day. Urban sprawl continues to envelope ranges and traditional shooting areas, pushing shooters farther and farther out to engage in their sport and training. Developers build houses closer and closer to established ranges and soon the new residents are complaining about the noise. While much of the emphasis in range protection has been focused on passing laws shielding ranges from noise complaints, such laws only provide limited protection and can give ranges a false sense of security. Noise is just the tip of the iceberg and ranges need to guard against the mountain hiding beneath the surface.

One of the nation's foremost experts on range protection is my good friend John Pepper. Most shooters, especially tactical pistol shooters, know John through his popular target design the Pepper Popper, but few realize that John is a real hero of the Second Amendment and the shooting sports. For more than 50 years John Pepper has been a one-man army in the shooting and firearms rights community. Actually that's not true because John hasn't worked alone, his wonderful wife Nancy has been a full partner over the years and John would be the first to admit that without Nancy's support he could never have done nearly as much as he has. From grassroots legislative and political activities to hosting shoots, devising training techniques, designing targets and other equipment, visiting injured troops at military hospitals, and working with clubs to keep them open and shooting in the face of overwhelming attacks from lawyers and neighborhood associations, John and Nancy have been among the most active, and effective, of activists.

That's why when John Pepper talks, I listen – and you should too.

One of the critical points that John brings out about range protection is that noise is often the motivator for opponents to dig deeper looking for ways to shut a range down. Even in Pennsylvania, which has some of the strongest range protection laws in the country, ranges have been shut down because they didn't pay attention to their neighbors' noise complaints. Once the neighbors figure out that they can't force the range to quiet down, they begin looking for other ways to cause problems. Noise may be the initiator, but internal politics, lease issues, financial questions, pollution charges, safety concerns, zoning issues, or some other factors might be the stake through the heart of your favorite gun club.

That's why it is so important that ranges be proactive in their noise abatement programs and be diligent about addressing any other potential liability issues. Every gun club and range should have a committee or committees that constantly look at issues such as sound attenuation, neighbor relations, and planning. Even ranges safely tucked out in the wilderness need to be looking at county planning documents to make sure that they are aware of potential future encroachments. Every complaint from a neighbor should be taken seriously, investigated, and mitigated as much as possible. Just letting neighbors know that you take their concerns seriously can go a long way toward heading off future problems. Providing discounted or free club memberships or range privileges to the nearest neighbors might help. Offering free safety and familiarization courses might help too. But the most important thing is to do whatever can be reasonably done to keep range noise on the range.

There are a variety of actions a club can take to manage noise. Enclosed firing positions, taller berms, noise fences on top of berms, baffle systems, and adjusting operating hours are just a few. Longer term plans might include acquiring land around the range to serve as a buffer zone or planting trees as a sound barrier.

In some cases, a practical analysis of a club's situation will lead to the conclusion that a move is inevitable. The further in advance the club recognizes and accepts the fact and begins the process of acquiring an alternate site, the better off they will be. Every club and every range is different and any strategy must be developed and adjusted for each individual club. The most important thing is that clubs look to the future and identify potential problems before they happen.

John used to provide consulting services to ranges to help them cope with noise attenuation and other problem issues and he still does some of that over the phone, but he and Nancy have been fighting with cancer for several years and they don't get out much these days. The firearms community owes a great debt to these diligent workers and while I know John and Nancy will appreciate your prayers, the greatest tribute any of us can give them is to take up their work, follow their example, and make sure that future generations enjoy the fun, challenge, and camaraderie of firearms and the shooting sports.

As Pepper would say, "Onward."

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