Posted 10/14/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
All is quiet at the Badlands Shooting Club’s gun range on the east side of Watford City. The local gun range, which is usually a busy place this time of year as deer hunters sight in their rifles and trap shooters sharpen their eye for the upland bird and water fowl hunting seasons, has been closed since Thursday, Oct. 9, after a temporary injunction was served on the club.
According to Gary Schwartzenberger, a Badlands Shooting Club board member, the injunction closing the shooting range was issued because of public safety concerns following stray bullets hitting buildings owned by Taylor Ag Services and Paul Deutsch.
The first time that the Taylor Ag building was struck by a stray bullet was on Feb. 28, according to Kent Taylor, owner of the Taylor Ag Services. To date, Taylor’s building, which is about a quarter mile north of the shooting range’s property, has been struck three times, while Paul Deutsch, who lives east of the gun range, has had his shop building hit twice.
While Taylor and Deutsch are hoping that the temporary injunction will become permanent, members of the Badlands Shooting Club are hoping that they can make improvements that will allow the range to stay open.
“The only way the bullets could have reached those buildings is by someone being stupid,” states Daryl Vance, shooting club board member and former Watford City police chief. “But because it is our property, it is our responsibility.”
Members of the shooting club met at the range last Tuesday to discuss their options to improve the safety of the range.
“Having the range closed isn’t a good option,” stated Schwartzenberger. “And with no other land available near Watford City, the club doesn’t have any options to relocate.”
It is Schwartzenberger’s opinion that the Badlands Shooting Club needs to find ways to make the improvements needed to keep the shooting range open. It is his fear that if the temporary injunction becomes permanent, the problem of irresponsible shooters will spread across the county.
“People want to be able to shoot their guns,” states Schwartzenberger. “If they can’t shoot them at the gun range, then they will simply find another place to shoot. And that place isn’t going to be controlled at all.”
So, according to Schwartzenberger, that means the only option that the club has in order to keep the shooting range open is to make it safer, and to implement changes at the range that will guarantee that no stray bullets can leave the range.
“We have already installed an electronic key card system that monitors who is entering the range and have put in surveillance cameras,” states Schwartzenberger. “But we’ve got to do more to improve safety at the range.”
The first thing that Schwartzenberger would like to see happen is for the club to have a full-time attendant at the range when it is open.
But he also says that the club needs to be willing to invest in making improvements that will improve safety on the range and that will prevent stray bullets from leaving the range.
Improvements that Schwartzenberger feels are necessary would include developing a plan that will include raising the impact berms for the long gun shooting lanes, building permanent shooting benches and an overhead awning to prevent overshooting the berms, building U- shaped berms for the pistol range, building a better target system, and implementing firearms safety classes and other safety requirements at the range.
“If we build it right, it can be safe,” states Schwartzenberger. “We (the Badlands Shooting Club) and the community need to come together to get it done. There are options to keeping the shooting range open.”
For Schwartzenberger, keeping the shooting range open is not only important to the club’s members, but is also important to area law enforcement.
“The Watford City Police Department and the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department, along with other law enforcement agencies use our shooting range,” states Schwartzenberger. “If the range is closed, our law enforcement officers will have to travel for their firearms training and certifications.”
But one nagging question for some shooting club members is can the Badlands Shooting Club do enough to show that it can be safe.
“We need to provide the judge with a list of proposed improvements that we can make to improve the shooting range,” states Ron Roos, club secretary. “If she agrees to them, then we can go ahead and make those improvements. I would hate to begin spending money on improvements, and then be told that what we are doing is not enough.”
And for Kent Taylor, he doesn’t know if there is ever going to be enough done to make sure that someone won’t be hit or killed by a stray bullet coming from the shooting range.
“Who can say what can make the range safe,” says Taylor. “And I don’t know what it would cost to make it safe. Those are questions that I’m trying to find the answer to.”
So for now, the Badlands Shooting Club’s shooting range is closed. How long it will be closed is the question that is yet to be answered.
“The temporary injunction will remain in place until the parties can settle on it or it goes to court,” states Taylor.