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Gun club members say lawsuit a personal vendetta
Members of the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club gathered at their club on Sept. 9 to discuss their next step after learning that a lawsuit had been filed against the club a day earlier by Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge.
“They’re not gonna shut us down,” club executive officer Marcus Carter told the group, 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-established club had relaxed its regulations in recent years, illegally allowing large-caliber and automatic weapon fire, firing late into the evening, using explosives as target, bulldozing more firing lanes and damaging wetlands.
Carter, meanwhile, contends Hauge has a personal vendetta and the club is within its rights because the county grandfathered the club in 1993.
He said the club has permits for the construction and has had nearby water sources tested for lead contamination.
Club members point to 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.
At a county commissioners meeting Monday, members voiced their support of the club and criticism of the county employees.
“There are many people that have let it 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 absence of baffles to catch stray and ricocheted bullets and the earth-moving modifications have become a “public nuisance.”
Washington state defines a 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 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,” Carter said.
After a decade, the suit was dismissed by Kitsap Superior Court in May 2009 -- the third time a judge has 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 will keep 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," he said, "is that unless we continue on with this action, Mr. Carter will go on manufacturing machine guns.”
In September 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.
He said any shooting range will be modified over time if managed properly. The modifications were allowed because of the exemption granted by commissioners.
Carter said the club has 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 behind the lawsuit, 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” and an attempt 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.
“We have to have the club comply with the same building regulation as everyone else in the county,” said Hauge.
He said he tried to meet the club “halfway” when his office sent 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,” Wachter said. “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.
“We haven’t had any issues with our neighbors,” Kizziah said. “We work closely with our neighbors to keep everyone happy.”
When asked, 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 prosecutor 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.
Instead, he would order a “complete review of the case.”
While many club members were not shocked by Hauge’s actions, 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.
“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,” Kevin Gross, a retired Navy captain, wrote in his formal declaration.
When he and his wife moved into their home nearby in 2002, gunfire was 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 it has between 1,000 and 1,200 members, with approximately 10,000 nonmember visitors each year.