SLC legislators call on state to reject legislation that could close shooting ranges

Posted 5/5/24

CANTON -- A newly proposed bill in the New York Senate is a gun control law being presented under the guise of an environmental law, according to multiple St. Lawrence County legislators. Legislators …

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SLC legislators call on state to reject legislation that could close shooting ranges


CANTON -- A newly proposed bill in the New York Senate is a gun control law being presented under the guise of an environmental law, according to multiple St. Lawrence County legislators. Legislators are calling on state officials to reject the bill that would place heavy restrictions on the locations and size of shooting ranges due to proximity to wetlands and open water sources.

Proposed legislation

The legislation known as "The Sporting Range Good Neighbor Act" currently sits in committee with the New York State Senate could potentially limit where shooting ranges can be and how large they have to be, in particular trap and skeet fields, though two amendments broadened the language to incorporate all forms of shooting ranges.

Sponsored by Peter Harchkham (D), representative of the 40th Senate District that encompasses Rockland, Putnam and Westchester Counties, the legislation is an environmental conservation law that seeks to prohibit any portion of a skeet field tract to include wetlands or an open water source, according to the bill.

In response to the legislation, legislators passed a resolution at the recent operations committee meeting that calls on state officials to reject the bill.

Norfolk Rod and Gun Club president Jason Collar was on hand for the meeting, presenting the club's concerns to legislators.

Collar told legislators that the legislation places a heavy burden on the club and gives the Department of Environmental Conservation broad discretion to close the facility if wetlands or open water sources are within certain distances of shooting ranges.

If enacted, skeet field tracts at shooting ranges would have to be at least 600 by 300 yards.

Too costly?

"The cleanup expense is going to come back on the club, we won't be able to afford it. We're going to have to shut down if they push forward with this," Collar said.

When asked by Legislator Larry Denesha if the range utilized a designated space for such activities, which Collar confirmed was the case.

"We do, yes. Skeet itself is a particular activity of shooting sports, another form of shotgun sport where you shoot a clay target. The lead goes up into the air when you're shooting, which is where they are concerned about lead being introduced into wetlands," Collar said.

According to Collar, it's not just club members who participate at the range, but also four school trap teams. A fifth also planned to begin this spring but just missed the cutoff, he said.

"This legislation would directly affect their futures, especially at our club," he said.

Collar said that shooting sports are a great alternative to more traditional sports. Children who are unable to participate in other sports are given a sense of community and camaraderie when they join the teams, which has helped many gain confidence and grow as individuals, he said.

As of 2022, almost half of school districts in St. Lawrence County had an active skeet and trap shooting club, legislators say.

Collar also touched on aspects of the bill that are ambiguous, including the definition of wetlands.

"It really depends on the definition of wetlands. They also don't specify what constitutes a backdrop. We know it's meant to keep lead out of wetlands but there is no definition," he said.

Two amendments introduced also furthered concerns, with language modified to incorporate not just trap and skeet fields, but also shooting ranges in general. That would also mean that rifle and pistol ranges would be subjected to such scrutiny, Collar said.

"Our club could be affected due to having a pistol range, a rifle range, and a shotgun range. We have to wonder if they will be within those requirements," he said.

Legislators say that shooting ranges already have to meet restrictive guidelines to operate safely, costing as much $100,000 or more to do so.

“There are significant legal and constitutional questions regarding the legality of the measure that have not been adequately addressed,” legislators say.

Legislators concerned

The idea that further regulations could be put in place did not sit well with some legislators, including Glenn Webster who brought the bill to the board's attention.

"Let's just call it what it is. It's an attack on the Second Amendment," Webster said.

Webster commented on memories of his childhood, melting down wheel weights to form sinkers for fishing.

"How many of them are at the bottom of Mud Cap in Norwood? We had to melt down the weights to make new sinkers because we lost so many. No one seems concerned about that though," he said.

Webster suggested the state should utilize its resources for lead abatement in homes "instead of a few piles of lead that might have wetland nearby."

Legislator Jim Reagan voiced similar concerns, saying the bill was another example of downstate politicians attempting to pass legislation because they did not understand "our way of life in the North Country."

"This has to be fought every way. It is an attack on lawful gun ownership," he said.

Reagan said his concern regarding the legislation extends beyond the present and what it may mean for future legislation if the bill were to pass.

"Once they get their toe in the door, the rest of them are coming in," he said.

Legislator Larry Denesha called the bill "a bunch of hooey" that is a "gun control bill disguised as an environmental bill."

Legislator Ben Hull also questioned the state's approach to quantifying the amount of lead that ends up in designated wetland areas.

"Has there been any attempt to quantify just how much lead may end up in designated wetlands," he asked.

Collar said he has not seen any figures from the state yet.

"I don't know how much exposure it leads to specifically," he said.

Hull also commented that many everyday devices contain lead, including cells phones, electric vehicles and solar panels.

He went on further, raising the concern about what would happen if a hail storm damaged 100 acres of solar panels that are adjacent to wetlands.

"I see this as an attempt to extinguish a cultural heritage of responsible gun ownership and usage for may be a marginal benefit to the environment. But at what cost," he questioned.

Collar said at present there are no grants available specifically for lead remediation at shooting facilities.

"If we can't get grants to cover the cost, we're done. We can't afford that," he reiterated.

Collar said the New York Conservation Fund supports numerous efforts that are similar in nature, which could be one avenue to pursue but there are no guarantees.

Club support

While some legislators voiced concerns about potential infringements of the Second Amendment, Legislator Margaret Haggard spoke to the positive impact shooting sports have on children.

"I know I am frequently labeled as anti-Second Amendment but I took an oath to support the constitution. I support responsible gun ownership," she said.

Haggard commented that she had an opportunity to help students at a former job to help students sign up for the Brasher trap team.

"The children have guns but not the expertise. That's where your club comes in," she said.

Haggard commended Collar for leading the club and being a great example of what is possible when getting children involved in shooting sports and teaching safe firearm handling.

"But my concern is this, and I know this is a great sport. But we had a grant for lead poisoning in the county and I was shocked that it wasn't all about them eating paint chips but there are a considerable number of kids who are exposed," she said.

Haggard said she was on the fence out of concern for the potential exposure to lead for children.

Collar addressed that concern and clarified that the lead is contained within the shell, which means children wouldn't come into contact with it.

"We teach them the scientific aspects of firearms as well. We're teaching our youth more than just pulling the trigger," he said.

Collar said in his time as a 4H instructor he also takes the time to educate children about the dangers of lead, ensuring they know the dangers and that they should wash their hands before eating.

Another concern Collar raised is the growing cost of ammunition, in particular alternatives to lead like tungsten, steel and bismuth shot.

"It's expensive, we know that," he said.

Collar said the new background checks for ammunition, coupled with the new fees associated, are burdensome for families who want to get their children involved in shooting sports.

Lead concerns

Under the proposed legislation, “the Department of Environmental Conservation is directed to promulgate rules and regulations on lead ammunition reclamation and required environmental stewardship reporting for outdoor shooting ranges,” the bill read.

If a shooting range is found to be in violation of the proposed legislation, the range would be given 30 days to create a plan “to submit an implementation plan to the Department, detailing the shooting range’s plan to implement this section. The Department shall have sixty days to approve or disapprove of the plan. Once the plan is approved, the shooting range must implement the plan within ninety days,” according to the bill.

According to the bill, the justification for attempting to enact it comes from similar laws in place in Massachusetts, a state that currently utilizes guidelines related to lead management at outdoor shotgun ranges that align with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) lead management and design recommendations.

“Minimal environmental and human safety mandates for outdoor shooting range siting and management alleviates threats to New York's citizens, wildlife, ecosystems, and natural resources; and proactively eliminates high costs of RCRA (Resource Conservation Recovery Act) restoration clean-ups,” the bill reads.

Collar said those restrictions and the discretion given to the DEC could lead to the club being closed down.

"It could mean that we might have to relocate part of the range. We may have to close down part of the club," he said.

Collar commented that he has seen many people enjoy the facilities available, including his wife and daughter's doctor, who was enjoying shooting pistols on the designated pistol range.

"If our doctor is out there and saving lives and he's out there letting off some steam and he enjoys doing it, that's just another example of someone going out there and doing things they like to do," he said.

Collar said he has seen similar situations with area youth.

"I've seen youth grow, change and become better examples of our next generation of leaders and community leaders that have grown from the confidence they have gained from shooting sports...that's why we want to protect our clubs," he said.