At Close Range

The Cherry Creek Shooting Center finds itself under the gun.

Opening a shooting range isn't as easy as setting up a few targets and letting the bullets fly. For one thing, ranges take up a lot of space. Larry Kramer, director of field operations for Colorado State Parks, says the state is looking for sites with a minimum of 1,000 acres -- and those locations aren't easy to come by. And second, shooting ranges are noisy, unwelcome neighbors. While state law grants them the aforementioned special noise-related exemptions -- meaning, for example, that a homeowner who knowingly moves next door to an existing range can't sue for noise violations -- the law does not protect new ranges that move into developed areas. "If you come to the nuisance, it's not a nuisance," Fabian explains.

"Certainly, the key is being sensitive to location, location, location," Laverty adds. "You want to do your siting in a location that is safe and that minimizes impacts on surrounding uses. You don't want someone having to camp next to one of these ranges. They don't want to hear the pop, pop, pop all day long."

In January, the Larimer County Board of Commissioners abandoned a plan to build a public range in the Cherokee State Wildlife Area after residents of nearby Livermore rallied against it. The Friends of Cherokee Park had argued the range would lower property values, disrupt wildlife and increase traffic.

Francisco Caceres
Rich Wyatt, a range-team technical advisor for the 
National Rifle Association, shoots straight from the lip.
John Johnston
Rich Wyatt, a range-team technical advisor for the National Rifle Association, shoots straight from the lip.

"We know that shooting ranges are valid and necessary," says Marilee Louis Posavec, a leader of the Million Mom March's Littleton chapter. "But it just seems like there are a lot of questions that need to be answered for the public before they start showing up on more public lands and in parks. Who's going to profit from them? How secure will they be? Gun ranges have a problem with lead. What's the environmental impact going to be? Who's going to be liable in the event of an accident?

"It's kind of like a really quick promise, like a campaign promise, without any deep thought given to it," she adds. "With everything going on in the state right now, with our schools and our economy and everything else, I think we need to ask ourselves, ŒIs this a priority?'"

There are very few restrictions on who can shoot what at shooting ranges -- and practically none at all at the Cherry Creek Shooting Center. An adult 21 or over who appears lucid and is capable of filling out a short registration form may bring his own firearm or rent one on site: The rate is $11 a day to rent a gun ($10 if you pay cash) and $10 to shoot it. One-on-one instruction ranges from $50 to $75 an hour; Cherry Creek shooters can get certified by the NRA or earn the credential required to apply for a concealed-weapon permit. Children may shoot if supervised by a parent or guardian.

Over the past decade, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson recalls just one incident at the shooting range -- and the culprit in that case was lightning, which struck a man in the parking lot on his way to his car.

That spotless record got a big blot last month, however. On Tuesday, September 23, a 25-year-old woman rented a .22-caliber handgun, bought two boxes of ammo from Peggy Duckworth, and went through a routine safety check with a range officer. The woman spent about an hour firing rounds into paper targets, then went for two more boxes of bullets. When she returned to her spot on the firing line, she turned the .22 on herself.

"There was absolutely nothing to indicate what this woman had on her mind," says Peggy Duckworth. "She was friendly and fairly talkative, and she had a Frequent Shooter Card," a punch card given to repeat customers by the Cherry Creek Shooting Center. "We had three rangers working on a Tuesday; it wasn't busy. One range officer wasn't twenty feet away from her. He'd been talking to her before she did it. There was nothing that we could have done differently to stop her."

"I think one of the reasons that we've seen so few incidents like this out there is that the place is very well managed," Sheriff Robinson says. "Sometimes you get a person who has made up their mind that they're going to do something like this, and there's very little that can be done to prevent it. You just have to look at it as an isolated incident."

The Cherry Creek suicide was not the first such incident on a Colorado firing range. In 1998, the owner of the Firing Line, an indoor pistol range in Aurora, stopped renting guns after a 28-year-old man shot himself in the head with a rented gun. It was the third such occurrence at that range in two years. Nationally, recent suicides at shooting ranges in Seattle, Los Angeles and Delray Beach, Florida, have prompted debates over implementing mandatory waiting periods or background checks for gun rentals.

"This is one of the few instances where a person can come in and use a gun without going through a background check," says Louis Posavec, of the Million Mom March. "And that brings up a number of questions. What kind of assurances are there that the gun won't leave the facility, for example? You could have an instance where you wind up giving a gun to a criminal or a spouse abuser or anyone. To me, that's an uncomfortable idea."

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