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County Council approves gun ranges for the Big Island

August 17, 2017 - 8:00pm

HILO — The county Game Management Advisory Commission is shooting for a quick solution to the lack of gun ranges on the island.

A unanimous County Council vote Wednesday on Resolution 246 gave the commission the go-ahead to begin the process of locating potential sites, finding funding and putting together public and private partners. Commission Chairman Tom Lodge said after the meeting the process is already in the works.

“This is a community effort so the community is going to be involved in this in a big way,” Lodge said. “There’s a real need and an urgency that we certainly understand.”

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, co-sponsor of the resolution along with Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, said he offered the legislation after hearing from many constituents, including law enforcement, about the need for a place to shoot. An outdoor range would provide a location to teach people how to handle guns, to give enthusiasts a place to practice and to hold tournaments, he said.

More than 100 letters of support for the plan were submitted. There were a few testifiers Wednesday as well.

Sherrie Cronkite, testifying from Hilo, said knowing how to handle a gun is important for protection, especially for women. Her children learned how to shoot on the mainland, where there are shooting ranges, and she was disappointed when she moved back to the Big Island and found out there aren’t any.

“It’s a time for us to teach our children the proper way to do this,” Cronkite said. “There’s no place for them to practice but the backyard and the backyard is not a safe place.”

The only dissenter Wednesday was Alex Achmat, who worried about lead contamination and lawsuits against the county.

“The path the council’s embarking on is going to load us up for endless liability,” Achmat said.

The resolution charges the working group led by the game commission with determining the type of shooting venues desired, for example rifle, pistol, shotgun, air gun, archery or other shooting sports. The group will also determine basic infrastructure, such as how much land would be needed, and create a list and description of shooting venues desired, along with the required infrastructure and the priority of construction.

Details such as design estimates, timing of the phasing in construction, operational costs and sources of revenue will also be determined by the working group.

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara had some concerns about cost and liability. She voted in favor of the resolution.

“I fully support a public shooting range; I just want to be careful that it doesn’t become a county shooting range,” O’Hara said.

Richards believes memberships or fees could make the project self-sufficient. He said there are models of gun ranges that could be incorporated into the county plans.

Pittman-Robertson funds, which come from a tax on firearms and ammunition, and other grants might be available to help finance the project, Lodge said.

“We don’t have to recreate the model,” Richards said. “It could actually be a financial positive for the county, depending on the model.”

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