POULSBO — The Poulsbo Sportsman Club is disputing a proposed ordinance that would limit the hours shooting ranges can operate and the caliber of bullet that could be fired.
The “proposed restrictions on hours of operation and caliber limits … are not necessary … nor are they necessary to avoid jeopardy to humans, domestic animals or property,” states a letter addressed to Larry Keeton, director of the Kitsap County Department of Community Development.
The letter, writte by Margaret Archer of Gordon Thomas Honeywell, states the added provisions “will not survive a legal challenge.” The letter was submitted to the county Sept. 25.
District 1 Commissioner Robert Gelder said the proposed ordinance is an update on a 1993 shooting range ordinance. The original ordinance was created for regulating new clubs and shooting ranges, he said. This update would reflect upon those clubs and ranges established prior to 1993.
With a growing population, Gelder said the county is looking to balance the needs of all community members. What was once “in the middle of nowhere,” the area surrounding the club is seeing more people, he said.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the ordinance Oct. 31 at the Kitsap County administrative building, 614 Division St., Port Orchard. Written comment may be submitted until Nov. 8.
If approved, the ordinance would allow shooting ranges to operate 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Facilities may be open for extended hours — open as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m. — if the facility is using the best noise reducing technology, according to the ordinance document. The additional hours have to be approved by the Department of Community Development.
The Washington state Department of Ecology sets the noise restrictions for shooting ranges. Current operating hours allowed are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The club’s operating hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Members are allowed to shoot until 8 p.m.
The county’s proposed ordinance states there is no code to “regulate the days or hours of operation for discharge of firearms at shooting ranges in unincorporated Kitsap County.” The ordinance, then, “will serve to protect the public health and well being of persons living in the proximity to shooting ranges and to limit nuisance noise conditions.”
Poulsbo Sportsman Club President Doug O’Connor believes the county is using operating hours and safety as a way to control noise. It’s a “loophole,” he said.
Also, the ordinance would restrict the firing of .50 caliber bullets or greater, as a safety measure.
If a restriction is made on the caliber of bullet or shell at a shooting range, it could become a safety issue, O’Connor said.
Take the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, for example, he said.
“The noise complaints [for the club] were off the charts, and the club was closed,” he said. Instead, people were going out into the woods to shoot, he added.
To the best of Gelder’s understanding, the caliber restrictions does have to do with noise, he said.
The Sportsman Club currently allows all calibers of handguns and rifles, with the exception of the .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun or any firearm that exceeds 10,000 foot pound of muzzle energy, according to the letter.
The majority of noise complaints come from the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club and the surrounding Seabeck area, Gelder said. The Rifle and Revolver Club was shutdown in early 2012. During that time, O’Connor said the amount of people using the Poulsbo Sportsman Club increased 120 percent.
The Seabeck shooting range reopened in May.
The ordinance, if passed with the current language, would also require shooting ranges to apply for an operating permit by the Department of Community Development. Shooting ranges would allow to continue to operate as it currently is, until a permit is issued. If found that the shooting range was in violation of specific conditions while in the permitting process, including operating hours and caliber of firearms, the range would be shut down, at least temporarily.
According to Archer’s letter, the Sportsman Club “generally supports the County’s effort to implement an operating permit system.”
In an effort to give everyone “most of what they want,” a committee charged with reviewing the ordinance has submitted amendments to the county.
The amended ordinance is an effort to remove “ambiguous” language that may become problematic for the Sportsman Club, said O’Connor, the chair of the committee.
Gelder said the goal is not to eliminate guns. But, as communities continue to develop, shooting ranges may need to evolve to fit their surrounds.