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Showdown at the KRRC - Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club supporters say they’ll fight county’s lawsuit, officials say club must obey the law.
Buttons that read “Hauge” with a dark red slash through the name were already made.
Members of the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club gathered at their club the evening of Sept. 9 to discuss their next step after hearing that a lawsuit had been filed against the club the day before by Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Russell Hauge.
With mosquitoes hovering above, members stood outside and listened intently as Marcus Carter, the club’s executive officer, explained the situation at hand. Eager to get their voices heard, too, members provided their feedback of outrage and anger.
“They’re not gonna shut us down,” Carter said to the crowd of members, urging them to flood newspaper comment sites with support for the club. “It’s about control of people, not gun control.”
The lawsuit, filed in Pierce County, alleges the long-standing club took a turn in recent years, illegally allowing large caliber and automatic weapon fire, firing late into the evening, using explosives as targets and bulldozing more firing lanes — and consequently damaging wetlands by building at least eight more firing lanes.
For Carter’s part, he contends Hauge is exacting a personal vendetta and the club is within its rights as the county “grandfathered” the club in 1993. He added the club has permits for the construction and has had nearby water sources tested for lead contamination. Club members emphasize a long safety record and Carter chalked up criticism of the club to a small cadre of neighbors upset they bought houses within earshot of a pre-existing gun range.
“The big thing to emphasize is to be involved and to let people know what the facts are,” Carter told members.
And support poured in. At a county commissioners meeting Monday, members voiced their support of the club and criticism of the county employees while Carter’s comments to the board took an ominous tone.
“There are many people that have let us be known from all walks of life that they will spare no expense to see to it that this county prosecutor and (county community development code enforcement officer) Steve Mount are put down like a rabid dog,” Carter told commissioners.
The suit, which asks a judge to shutter the club until it complies with the law, alleges the noise, the lack of baffles to catch stray and ricocheted bullets and the earth-moving modifications have become a “public nuisance.”
Washington state defines public nuisances as activities that “annoy, injure, and/or endanger the safety, health, comfort or repose of others.”
The current lawsuit is not the first battle Carter has had with the prosecutor’s office. In November of 1999, prosecutors filed a felony charge against Carter for possessing an automatic Colt AR-15 rifle, the civilian version of the military M-16 assault rifle. Carter had allegedly modified the rifle for automatic fire.
“He has been pursuing me since that time,” said Carter.
After a decade, the suit was dismissed by Kitsap Superior Court in May 2009, the third time a judge tossed it out.
Carter held a federal license for firearms, however Deputy Prosecutor Andy Anderson said Carter’s particular license does not allow him to possess a machine gun and the office was appealing the dismissal.
“The case is still alive,” Hauge said, adding the appeals court has agreed with his decision every time and has sent it back. “My understanding is that unless we continue on with this action, Mr. Carter will go on manufacturing machine guns.”
In September of 1993, the club received a letter from county commissioners confirming the shooting range’s “lawfully established, non-conforming uses.” In common usage, it means the club had been grandfathered in and was therefore exempt from new regulations.
The suit states, however, that a lot has changed since 1993.
“Things haven’t changed,” said Carter, defending the club. He said that any shooting range will be modified over time if managed properly, which he said they have done. The modifications were allowed because of the exemption granted by commissioners. He said they have an aggressive cleanup program and that the facility has strict safety procedures, resulting in the club’s virtually spotless safety record.
Skip Junis, a member of the Central Kitsap Citizens for Safe and Quiet Neighborhoods, the group that researched the club and lobbied prosecutors for action, said he was unaware he shared his neighborhood with a gun range for years. Recently things changed, and between slugs allegedly being discovered outside the range and complaints about high-powered and intense gun fire into the night, Junis describes it as “out of control.”
He said talk of a conspiracy by Hauge and the safety of shooters are “misdirection,” ways to avoid addressing the concerns of neighbors, who do not want the club shut down but to just obey the law.
“They know what they have done is wrong,” Junis said.
Shut down or slow down?
“We have to have the club comply with the same building regulation as everyone else in the county,” said Hauge, referring to the current lawsuit. Hauge said he tried to meet the club “half way” when his office sent the club a letter in May requesting that the club allow access to building inspectors, but he got no response. Neil Wachter, deputy prosecutor, said the next step in this case is to file a formal motion for a preliminary injunction, which he expects will happen in the next week.
“The ultimate goal is not to shut down the rifle club permanently,” said Wachter. “It is to ensure the club operates under Kitsap County code.”
Tim Kizziah, president of the Poulsbo Sportsman Club, a firing range in North Kitsap, has heard that the club on Seabeck Highway has gone back and forth with the county and “has no idea why they have so many issues,” but supports the club.
“We haven’t had any issues with our neighbors,” Kizziah said. “We work close with our neighbors to keep everyone happy.” When requested, his club has shut down operation so that there would be no gunfire during nearby gatherings, including wedding ceremonies.
Bruce Danielson, who is running for the prosecuting attorney position against Hauge this election, is a current member of the club.
Danielson said he supports the club and its activities, but said if elected he would not immediately scrub the lawsuit, but order a “complete review of the case.”
Members feel safe, neighbors don’t
While many club members were not shocked by Hauge’s action against the club, the lawsuit alarmed others. “I was floored,” said Bob Starline who decided to take up shooting at the age of 55 when he moved to Poulsbo from Virgina a year ago. He always thought that he might like target shooting and decided to check the club out.
“I feel safe here,” Starline said. “I wouldn’t bring my daughter here if not.” Starline said he is thinking about bringing his wife to the range.
Neighbors have a different take, however.
“It sometimes sounds like our house is being shot at,” neighbor Kevin Gross, a retired Navy captain, wrote in his formal declaration. When he and his wife moved into their home nearby in 2002, gunfire sounds were rarely heard. He wrote that in 2008, or earlier, “the loudness and frequency of shooting sounds from the club began to increase appreciably.”
The Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club has been operating since 1926. Carter said they have between 1,000 to 1,200 members with approximately 10,000 nonmember visitors each year.