PARKERSBURG – Residents in the area of the Sundowner Gun Range on Gihon Road lodged complaints Thursday with Wood County commissioners about the private shooting range.
Charles Nelson, representing the Wildwood Homeowner’s Association, told commissioners numerous complaints have been lodged with the association about reported property damage and safety concerns, including residents allegedly finding bullet holes in porch railings on Brooktree Street, neighbors reporting hearing bullets passing overhead, bullets in trees on Brooktree and Elmwood, bullets in residences’ siding and bullets found on East Wildwood Drive and Brooktree.
“Each of these observations were reported by different people, and I want to point out there is a school bus that stops at the far end of Brooktree Street with about 20 children. Some of the kids walk home down Brooktree, and there are children playing outside. Kids ride their bikes on the street, and everyone is concerned about their safety,” Nelson said.
The residents claimed not enough precautions have been taken by the gun range owner to ensure errant bullets won’t fly into nearby populated neighborhoods.
Wood County officials said they contacted attorney Andrew Woofter, who represents the gun range owner Kendall Richards regarding Thursday’s commission meeting, but were told Richards could not attend. A meeting has been scheduled with Richards on Monday.
Woofter said he was not aware of any regulations the gun range owner was violating.
“We believe our client has been operating safely and in compliance with all regulations, and we have seen no factual demonstration of any damage or injuries,” Woofter said after being contacted Thursday afternoon by The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.
During the meeting Thursday, Nelson said he contacted the Department of Natural Resources and was told they have no authority over private gun ranges, only public ones. “There are apparently no West Virginia regulations on them either. The only limitation is you can’t shoot on a road or within 500 feet of a domicile, and apparently they are within those restrictions, so they are legal in that sense,” Nelson said.
“This is unbelievable this could happen,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.
“The county has no zoning and no noise ordinance. I have been talking with the owner and he does have plans to make some noise abatement changes. He can put insulation in the shelter and that should pull the noise level down,” Commissioner Wayne Dunn said.
“If you had to live out there, you’d understand. Something has got to be done before someone gets killed. That’s no place for a gun range,” said Ray Fought, one of those attending the meeting Thursday with the county commission.
“I agree. I can’t understand how someone could shoot toward your house and it not be illegal,” Gainer said.
“We have heard from you all and our first problems is safety. I would recommend we authorize the county administrator to contact the sheriff and prosecutor and ask they immediately try to go through magistrate court to get a nuisance complaint, which appears to be all we can do at this point, and I don’t even know if that’s possible. But we can try to get them shutdown over the weekend until we can meet with them on Monday and see what we can get done to address these issues,” commission President Blair Couch said.
Nelson asked the county commissioners to consider passing an ordinance regulating the gun range.
“Ordinances require advertisement and public hearings, which require time, and I don’t even know if we can do that or not. I don’t want to go to bed tonight wondering about the possibility that someone might be shot,” Couch said. “If we can shut it down for the weekend, that will give us some time to look at it further on Monday.”
Dunn said the owner of the gun range told him the tires at the range are of a consistency to absorb the bullets, but individuals do miss the tires.
“We all want the same thing, but so far all we have is a lot of heresay. I’m concerned, but the owner has assured me it’s safe. I’d like to see it checked for safety. We’ll do what we can, but I’m not sure it’s fair to just shut him down,” Dunn said. “We need to go about this more methodically.”
“What if someone’s grandchild gets killed over there over the weekend,” Gainer said.
The commissioners voted 2-1 to seek action through the magistrate court, with Dunn dissenting.
Contacted after the meeting Thursday, Woofter said he had not been notified and was unaware of any action taken by the county commission against the gun range.