An effort to prevent the closure of the public gun range in North Adams, Massachusetts, is underway. As WAMC reports, users of the range have the ear of the city’s public safety committee.
In June, North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard made the abrupt announcement that the city’s gun range would close to the public at the end of 2018. It would remain open for police training and certification. Bernard said the city’s insurers — who learned of the range in March after a resident asked for it to receive upgrades — had been previously unaware of its 60-plus year existence in the city’s holdings, and did not believe the city’s policy would cover the liabilities of such a facility.
“I just want to make sure that everyone understands that the movement — the motion to close the gun range is an administrative decision, and not a decision of the city council," said City Councilor Jason M. LaForest. He sits on the three-member Public Safety Committee, alongside Councilors Benjamin Lamb and Joshua Moran. LaForest addressed concerned range users at the committee’s meeting Sept. 6th.
“And so we’re here to hear from you so we can determine how the council — as Councilor Lamb said — how we can support the gun range and make recommendations to the mayor’s office," he said. "But we have no power, per se, as far as weather the range is closed.”
North Adams resident David Whitney said he’s been going to the range since the early to mid 60s.
“I talked to the mayor last Thursday and he told me that truthfully he said it’s not an issue of noise," he told the committee and the assembled residents. "He told me it’s an issue of insurance liability.”
“It’s safety, it’s not noise. Again, the range has been up there for a number of years — 50 plus years," said Bernard, who spoke to WAMC the day after the meeting. “There really isn’t any other community in the commonwealth that we found that has the kind of public range that we have — most everyone else has a private shooting club, gun range.”
The definition of “public” itself was debated at the public safety committee’s meeting.
“The title of the range — they’re calling it a public range, people keep calling it a public range. It is not a public range," said Rob Lyons. "Two weeks ago, I was down in Cape Cod. Went to Cape Cod Gun Works. Anybody could walk through the door, license or not, and shoot a gun in their range. That is a public range. In North Adams, it is a locked facility. You need a license. You need to obtain a key. Not anybody can just go up there.”
Lyons says he maintains the range at no cost to the city, and is the range user who inadvertently brought about its impending demise earlier this year when he asked the city to explore improvements. He says the gun range’s membership has only increased since its announced closing.
“As of the closing, we had 57 members. We now are up to 82,” said Lyons. "Even after he made the motion of closing the range, membership is still rising, which is bringing in more revenue to help insurance costs."
Bernard told WAMC that a state law called the Recreational Use Act ironically makes the city’s restrictions on range users a greater insurance liability.
“The requirement that users of the North Adams gun range not only have a license to carry a firearms ID but also have a permit does limit the city’s protection under recreational use,” the mayor told WAMC.
One attendee of the meeting said a quote to cover the range from the United Specialty Insurance Company — a Texas based firm that offers property and casualty insurance — would cost the city around $700 a year. Bernard said the city had received it.
“I know there was one independent quote brought forward," he told WAMC. "We’re looking with an insurance company that the city works with on options.”
North Adams is insured through MAIIA, the Metro Alliance of Independent Insurance Agents.
For Lyons, the fear that his and his fellow range users’ efforts are amounting to nothing became a refrain during the meeting.
“If there’s nothing to do and the decisions going to stay the same, I would rather just know I’m not wasting my time up there mowing,” he said.
Bernard says the story isn’t over yet for the gun range: “We’re still looking at all the options.”