We want to take the opportunity to clarify the issues at the Libby Shooting Complex that have been highlighted in the past few weeks.
Number one, we want to set the record straight that the issues are not the result of long range shooters putting a “rogue” target outside the range boundaries. The target was put up, but with perceived permission from the club. Having the target up was a violation of the range permit and the that issue has been rectified.
The main concern is the lack of range management and oversight, not long range shooters practicing a legitimate shooting discipline. There is no doubt we have a few that abuse the range by not cleaning up after themselves, shooting at unapproved targets and practicing other unsafe shooting behaviors. We have new metal boundary signs (on the side of the range toward houses) that have been shot up and destroyed, we have trash all over the range, we have a dumpster that is shot full of holes, and there is a large amount of expired brass scattered around the shooting bench areas. We have received multiple complaints about unsafe shooting practices, even unsupervised children.
The clear majority of shooters are responsible citizens and sportsmen utilizing the range appropriately, and they have the Commissioners’ full support. We are dedicated to supporting a shooting range that is first class, safe, meets federal land use permit requirements, and is considerate of neighbors while maintaining availability to our shooting citizens. Unfortunately, we have to manage to a few who abuse the privilege.
Your Commissioners are each staunch supporters of the second amendment as well as all shooting disciplines. But as County Commissioners, our first responsibility is safety of the public, and we cannot allow unsafe shooting practices or the destruction of property on a shooting range that all of the citizens of Lincoln County are responsible for.
These same issues were raised a year ago, and after multiple meetings with shooters, neighbors and club members, as well as a public meeting, an agreement was reached and added as an amendment to the current special use permit with the Kootenai National Forest. A year later we are seeing continued significant safety violations, shooting outside of the agreed-to shooting hours, and outright abuse of the rifle portion of the range. The temporary closure is due to the continued safety issues, permit violations, and lack of any management structure over the rifle range.
We have a tremendous core group of volunteers who put in an extensive amount of time and effort in managing the operation, but like most volunteer organizations, there are many who utilize the facility and only a few dedicated folks actually stepping up to do the work.
The bottom line is, the issue is not evil long range shooters, it is a need for an oversight committee as agreed to in the new amendment of the lease, and users need to step up and assist in the management of the range. Lincoln County is the permittee of a U.S. Forest Service special use permit and is ultimately responsible for any incidents on the range.
The lease and the range are a privilege, not a right. We have a fantastic facility, but the county lacks the resources to provide day-to-day operational management and we need members to step up and provide oversight. With the support and commitment of all the users of the rifle range we will continue to have an excellent shooting complex and protect the significant investment of the many volunteers, the NRA, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Forest Service and Lincoln County.
Mike Cole, Mark Peck and Jerry Bennett are the Lincoln County Commissioners.