Draft ordinance encapsulated: what you need to know

Prepared by the Tarboo Ridge Coalition
8 September 2018

The Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) voted in December 2017 to declare a one-year moratorium on considering applications for commercial shooting facilities. The moratorium ordinance created a committee charged with developing draft legislation regulating commercial shooting ranges. The goal of this proposed ordinance was to protect the viability of gun ranges in the face of increasing population pressure with a focus on public safety, environmental protection, and compatible land use. The moratorium ordinance referenced recent legislation on the regulation of gun ranges from Kitsap County, which has withstood legal challenge, as a model.

The review committee consisted of County Prosecutor Phil Hunsucker, County staff from DCD, the Sheriff’s office, and Environmental Health, representatives of the Sportsman’s Club and the Point-No-Point Treaty Council, a citizen from each of the three legislative districts, and Joe D’Amico of Fort Discovery Inc. as a citizen-at-large. The committee met 15 times during the summer of 2018 and Mr. Hunsucker presented the draft ordinance, encapsulated in the bulleted points below, to the BoCC on August 27, 2018.

What the draft ordinance does
• It requires that the owner of a commercial shooting facility obtain an operating permit issued by the Department of Community Development (DCD). The permit requires a pre-operations inspection, an annual report, and an annual inspection, and enables inspections after reports of noncompliance.

• The application for an operating permit includes subsections with plans for facility design, safety, operations, environmental protection, and noise abatement. The application is to include professional evaluation and certification based on relevant Best Management Practices (BMPs) published by federal agencies, and range design and operations guidelines from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

What the draft ordinance does not do
Throughout the moratorium committee’s work, Mr. Hunsucker focused the legislation exclusively on public safety, with the explicit goal of producing an ordinance that would withstand legal challenge. As a result, the draft does not address several points that were directly addressed in the Kitsap County ordinance, or that have been raised by concerned citizens.

• It does not address environmental protection, other than the requirement for BMPs with respect to lead clean-up in the environmental plan. All other impacts on the environment are deferred to the possibility of a SEPA process during application review Specifically, there are no set-backs from shorelines as required by the Kitsap County ordinance. Setbacks are important for public safety and enjoyment of lakes for swimming, boating, and fishing.

• It makes commercial gun ranges available for “organizational training for members of the armed forces.” Thus, gun ranges in Jefferson County could be used for tactical training by military units, instead of being restricted to use by citizens and local law enforcement officers.

• It includes a provision that reads, “Full compliance with an operating permit creates a rebuttable presumption that the commercial shooting facility is not being operated as a nuisance.” This sentence appears to prevent nuisance noise complaints from citizens with PTSD or other special circumstances, which are allowable under state law—even though gun ranges are exempt from maximum decibel regulations.

• There are no limits on the number of shooters or intensity of shooting.

• It does not require operators to pay the costs of permit review—going so far as to explicitly require the county to pay for the cost of hiring an expert on gun-range design and safety to review applications.

• It does not address compatible land use with surrounding areas. All land-use implications are deferred to existing code requirements, which are not designed to deal with the unique impacts of gun ranges.

• It does not allow anonymous complaints of violations, exposing whistleblowers to potential harassment.

• Instead of being focused on the responsible and safe use of firearms by hunters and law enforcement officers, it allows exotic uses such as exploding targets and cowboy action shooting—a type of “running and gunning” contest.

Next steps
The BoCC will hold a public hearing on the draft ordinance on September 24, 2018, and will take written comment from the public from September 12th, 2018 until September 28th at 4:30pm. After that, the Board will deliberate and choose among several possible courses of action, including:

• Voting on the ordinance as currently drafted;

• Directing Mr. Hunsucker to add or delete specific provisions and voting on a revised ordinance;

• Extending the moratorium to allow further study and/or input on land-use implications from the Planning Commission.