Rifle-toting public jams sheriff's gun range

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Thread: Rifle-toting public jams sheriff's gun range

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    Rifle-toting public jams sheriff's gun range

    An Interesting Read.

    Rifle-toting public jams sheriff's gun range
    By Jennifer Sorentrue

    West Palm Beach resident Gary MacDonald hasn't missed a chance to fire his rifles at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office outdoor shooting range since it started opening its doors to the public more than a decade ago.

    For MacDonald, a former competitive shooter who makes his own guns, the sport is beating himself at his own game.

    "It was raining on a Saturday and 32 degrees outside and I was out here," MacDonald said.

    But lately MacDonald and the thousands of other gun owners who use the range have been faced with a new kind of competition simply securing a spot to fire their weapons.

    The number of gun owners using the long-arms range near 20-Mile Bend has more than tripled in the past decade. Last year alone, the range saw a 40 percent surge in the number of people using it.

    Whether because of better marketing at gun shows, anticipation of tighter gun controls, or the fact there's no other outdoor public range in a county the size of Rhode Island, one thing is certain: the bullets are flying here like never before.

    Most days, the facility is used exclusively by the sheriff's office and about 100 other law enforcement agencies for training. But 18 weekends a year, the county and the sheriff's office open it to the public.

    Capt. David Sleeth, who runs the range, said waiting lists are not uncommon and time restrictions are enforced to make sure everyone who wants to fire a gun gets a turn.

    "In an ideal world there would be a full-time facility that the public could use," Sleeth said.

    The sheriff's training facility is home to the only outdoor shooting range in Palm Beach County. Gun owners often travel from outside the county to use the range here, Sleeth said.

    Meanwhile, the sheriff's office has been working to increase awareness about the public shooting program. Sleeth and his staff attend all local gun shows as part of their public safety campaign and encourage gun owners to use the facility.

    "That is where we see most of our new shooters coming from," Sleeth said.

    In 2009, the range had 3,372 registered users, up 987 over the previous year. More than 1,100 people who used the range last year had never registered before, county statistics show.

    "We had record numbers," said Audrey Wolf, head of the county's facilities development and operations department. "This is pretty close to range capacity."

    Public ranges in Broward and Charlotte counties have also seen their numbers grow in recent years, officials said.

    Sleeth said some new users are drawn to the sport because of politics.

    "Obviously there has been an increase in firearms and ammunition purchases throughout the country," he said. "Any time you have a change in administration you typically see a surge in buying."

    Others, he said, are just looking for a place to practice. Hunters, competitive shooters and target shooters all use the facility, Sleeth said.

    On public shooting days, the facility's 50-yard range is always open. Depending on the weekend, gun owners can also fire from 100, 200 or 300 yards. The facility is one of the few in South Florida that allows shooters to fire from the 300-yard mark, Sleeth said.

    Frank Croft, a longtime user of the range and a former Palm Beach police chief, said it took time for many gun owners to realize the range was there.

    "In the beginning, the public didn't realize it was available," Croft said. "It is the only facility that I know of where you can go and not endanger somebody else. It is a controlled environment."

    In 1992, county commissioners banned the outdoor discharge of firearms east of 20-Mile Bend because development had encroached on land where residents once had been able to shoot safely. The county had planned to build a full-time public shooting range, but those plans have been put on hold because of budget cutbacks.

    Adam Mendez, a friend of MacDonald, said he didn't own any guns when he first came out to the range about a year and a half ago. The West Palm Beach resident said he now owns between 10 and 15 handguns and rifles.

    Mendez compares the hobby to his interest in customizing cars.

    "There is a lot to learn," he said. "It is not just going out to get ammo."

    But the West Palm Beach resident said he has no plans to hunt or shoot competitively.

    "I like hunting paper," he said.

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    Never heard of that. I have to go to Sebastion Public range. Bold step for PBC!
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    Sounds like a buisness opportunity to me.

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    Wethink alike

    That kind of hole in services is indeed a business opp. Even if the county maybe provides land on a 99 year lease set up for a private developer to build to suit and manage. Would not be the first range set up that way.
    A free range is always nice, but I have no problem paying my 10 bucks for a bench and a known shooting alley with RO's and safety guidelines.

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    Business opportunity, absolutely. Possibly for another range. Possibly, this existing range can consider that its fees and charges for using the range aren't high enough. They'll be able to adjust it to the "correct" level that will result in a volume of non-LEO traffic they can accept. Might not be the result that the public will like, but then "there ain't no free lunch."
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    Senior Member Array Chevyguy85's Avatar
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    "Adam Mendez, a friend of MacDonald, said he didn't own any guns when he first came out to the range about a year and a half ago. The West Palm Beach resident said he now owns between 10 and 15 handguns and rifles."

    I have trouble affording one gun a year. I want his job :-D

    Here in orlando the indoor ranges are plentiful but the closest outdoor that i'm aware of is about 40 mile round trip. I'll continue to be a member of that range, hopefully it doesn't close down i really don't want to drive all the way to the coast

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    VIP Member Array sgtD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maddyfish View Post
    Sounds like a buisness opportunity to me.
    In a normal world it would be, but not in Palm Beach County. I could be wrong, but I think there is a law banning the outdoor discharge of a firearm anywhere in the county. (Like the article said, a county the size of Rhode Island, composed mostly of Sugar cane fields and swamps.)

    With the vast amount of money that has been collected in the past year due to record gun and ammuntion sales via the Pittman-Robertson act, state firearm groups should be heavily lobbying their states to build new shooting ranges with that money. Gun owners in Palm Beach County should be lobbying for a public range to be built at Corbit WMA. If you live there and are involved in some short of shooting club or group, contact Marion Hammer in Tallahassee (Unified Sportsment of Florida) and get it done.

    I was born and raised near the range in Charlotte County that they spoke of. Locals and people form the surounding counties flock there to shoot. It is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and paid for through Pittman money. It has been expanded and improved in the last few years, however, due to the growth in population and gun use, it is usually overcrowded even though its open 7 days a week. (AFAIK). I used to get there at daylight to get a spot and finish before the crowd came in.

    They should build another on some of the public lands in Lee an Collier county. IMO, every county should have a gun range open to the public.

    I now live in KS and the shortage of ranges here is worse than you can imagine. Its not a big problem becuase as long as your outside the city, you can shoot and most people shoot on their own property, but for those living in Topeka, Witchita, etc. it is not easy to find a place to shoot unless you can afford big money to join a private gun club and go through a bunch of red tape. Even then, rifle ranges are hard to find, most gun cluns are either strictly indoor pistol ranges or skeet-trap-and sporting clays ranges.

    People who are concerned over these issues should contact their state legislators, the money is there right now to do these projects. Though most people, states, municipalities and the Feds are broke right now, Pittman Robertson funds are flush with cash. People need jobs too, so building shooting ranges seems like a good economic stimulus plan to me. Obama may disagree, but who cares.
    When you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts & minds will follow. Semper Fi.

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    Yup. Sounds like there is enough demand that someone should open another range...

    raining on a Saturday and 32 degrees outside and I was out here
    Only 32? That is a walk in the park on a spring day around here! Anything below 10 is really cold. I love it when you are in a covered firing position and the supersonic wave knocks snow off the roof above your head. Bullet-induced-avalanche.
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