Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club ceases fire, files notice of appeal on judge's decision

After its long legal battle with Kitsap County ended with a judge’s order earlier this month to close the shooting range, Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club suspended shooting at the Seabeck range and last week filed its notice of appeal.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Susan J. Serko ruled Feb. 9 that the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club is a public nuisance and ordered the club to not use its property as a shooting range until a Kitsap County conditional use permit is issued.

The club plans to appeal the judge’s decision. It filed a notice of appeal last Friday in the Washington State Court of Appeals in Tacoma.

“We’re appealing the decision, that’s where we stand right now,” Marcus Carter, the club’s executive officer, said Tuesday. He added that the club is doing what it can with the goal of getting the shooting range to reopen soon.

By unanimous vote, members at a Feb. 9 club meeting suspended shooting, said Carter. In the interim, he said that gun club members are taking the time to do some maintenance work.

The basis of the judge’s public nuisance ruling centered on the noise caused by shooting, the use of explosives on the club’s property, and the club’s inadequate efforts to confine stray bullets.

“The Property has become and remains a place violating the comfort, repose, health and safety of the entire community or neighborhood and therefore is a statutory public nuisance,” Serko wrote.

Serko issued an injunction that prohibits the use of the club as a shooting range until county zoning code violations are resolved. The injunction prohibits the use of fully automatic firearms, use of rifles greater than .30 caliber, use of exploding targets and cannons and the use of the property as an outdoor shooting range before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Since its inception, the gun club had occupied about 72 acres of property. The organization was founded by charter on Nov. 11, 1926 and was later incorporated in 1986.

“Needless to say, the lopsidedness of this decision really took everybody by surprise,” Carter said.

The judge ruled that the club engaged in new or changed uses, which were authorized without the issuance of a conditional use permit.

Neil Wachter, deputy prosecutor for the county, said that the judge’s order speaks for itself.

“The order affirms what the county has said all along,” Wachter said. “It’s a club that has exceeded its grandfathering status and has reinvented itself over the course of the last 10 or 15 years and has created a great disruption in the lives of hundreds or thousands of Central Kitsap residents.”

Wachter said the county is grateful that the court carefully reviewed the evidence and that now the gun club is in the position to follow rules that all other land owners must obey. There is an opportunity for the club to reopen should its leadership acquire a conditional use permit from the county.

“The county stands ready and willing and able to work with the club,” said Wachter. “Even though we’ve been on opposing sides during this litigation, the county has a responsibility to all owners, including the club, for a conditional use permit.”

However, because of the process involved with issuing a conditional use permit will take “some time,” said Wachter.

Permits require discussions with specialists from the county’s Department of Community Development and going before a hearing examiner and taking testimony from all stakeholders.

Rob Gelder, chair of the Board of County Commissioners, said the county is committed to working with the club.

“What it boils down to, it was a land use issue, not a second amendment rights [issue,]” Gelder said.

Central Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown said that from day one, he has been emphasizing that a gun range, which operates safely, makes a lot of sense to have.

“I think the judge was blunt in the decision that nobody is above the law,” Brown said.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge filed the lawsuit against the gun club in September 2010 for alleged nuisances after neighbors of the range lodged noise and safety complaints.

The county and the club were unable to agree to a settlement during mediation and the trial was held last year in Tacoma off and on from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27.

Members of the gun club remain disappointed in the court’s ruling and in a press release state that, “Judge Serko’s admitted lack of experience with firearms and shooting ranges is evident in the decision and was amplified in her further choosing to first accept and then decline the opportunity to visit the KRRC range.”

Although gunfire has stopped at the range for now, Carter hopes it won’t continue.

“We hope it isn’t long,” Carter said of the closure. “We have so many people counting on us for the classes we do.”

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