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Gun range proposal criticized


Among the more than 100 South Carroll residents who turned out for a public hearing last night on a proposed public shooting range, John Dugan knew his wasn't a popular sentiment.

"The general public needs a place to shoot," the 37-year-old Hoods Mill Road resident said at the Woodbine meeting last night.

"We really need a place to go that will be safe. The residents here are running on emotion, and most have never been to an organized shooting range."

And, if the tenor of last night's two-hour meeting is any indication, none of them ever want to get the chance.

Richard D. Soisson, the county's director of Recreation and Parks, told the group that the county commissioners are debating whether to put a shooting range at the nearby Hood's Mill Landfill or at the Northern Landfill east of Westminster.

"The county has done nothing to assure this community what is going to be done to mitigate our concerns," said south Carroll businessman Donald Farb, who is opposed to the Hood's Mill site.

The community's concerns, he said, were noise pollution, safety and traffic.

Although many of Mr. Soisson's comments were met with jeers and interruptions, his declaration of support for the Northern Landfill site was a welcome surprise to many at the meeting.

Mr. Soisson's opinion, however, is not the one that counts; the county commissioners could make a decision about which site to develop as early as Thursday morning.

Both proposals would cost the county no more than $35,000, Mr. Soisson said, and, as far as he's concerned, would be adequately safe and quiet.

"Safety should not be an issue, because the county would not allow something that isn't safe to begin with," Mr. Soisson said in an interview last week.

Mr. Soisson, who believes that the question is one of "where," not "if" to build a range, said last night that the county should shoulder some of the cost.

"Carroll County is rich in recreational resources, striving to create opportunities for sport and recreation enthusiasts. . . . Hunters and shooters are among these diverse groups, but are limited in the practice of their sport," he wrote in his analysis of both sites.

The South Carroll Citizens' Committee and other activists have shot down range proposals at six locations over the past decade, including a 1992 proposal at Hoods Mill.

Several efforts for indoor ranges in various parts of the count also have been defeated because of community opposition or zoning restrictions, though Westminster city planners have given their blessing to a proposed facility at the air business center on Route 97.

Most of those opposed to an outdoor range say they aren't opposed to guns in general but don't want the noise and possible danger in their neighborhood.

"I don't think the county should be involved in a gun range," said Harold Paine, one of the co-chairmen of the committee who organized last night's meeting. Mr. Paine, a Hoods Mill-area resident for 16 years, said he owns several guns but doesn't want them fired near his back yard.

But, in their regular weekly news briefing last week, the commissioners reiterated their support for a publicly managed outdoor gun range.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, according to published reports, said the board is committed to building a range.

Representatives of the Carroll County Sportsmen Association assured the county commissioners earlier this year that they would help with some of the costs.

A range would have 10 firing lanes, ranging in length from 25 yards to 200 yards. Bullets would be fired at targets with mounds of dirt as backdrops, and the county would adopt National Rifle Association safety rules. Half of Mr. Soisson's report spelled out what safety rules would apply to a county-run shooting range.

The report said the ranges should be open until sunset on weekends from January through April, and all week for the rest of the year.

Automatic weapons would be barred from the facility, the report said.

The range would be run by one or two contractual employees, Mr. Soisson said, and would have to pay for itself through admission charges.

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