By DON HEINZMAN – Gazette Columnist
There is a bill that if passed by the Minnesota Legislature would allow the public to use publicly owned or managed shooting ranges, some in local police stations.
It originated in the city of Plymouth, where a firearms safety instructor wanted to use the police shooting range to teach firearms safety and was denied.
The measure, part of larger bill, has passed the House Ways and Means Committee and could become part of a conference committee report.
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who has a lot of clout on outdoor sports issues, supports the bill.
Police departments and the sheriff association oppose the measure because of what they call security concerns and cost, for example to have police monitor the classes.
Hackbarth has asked for an amendment to address the concerns over security.
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington, says the shooting ranges were meant for law enforcement and not for young people.
Dave Larson of Plymouth, who is promoting the bill, said there is a shortage of shooting ranges where the gun safety classes can be taught.
Furthermore, Larson said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources requires students to test with a .22 rifle and most local gun ranges aren’t designed for rifles.
Michael Hammer, DNR education program coordinator, says there aren’t enough ranges – private or public – to support the program of firearms safety training, particularly in the metropolitan area.
Years ago local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts ran gun ranges, but many closed them because upgrading them became too expensive.
There are private gun ranges in the metro area, but members usually use them Saturdays when firearms safety classes are popular.
Hammer says publicly funded outdoor ranges are used for classes, and he cited Edina where the Braemar indoor range is open to the public.
During the year up to 24,000 students 11 years of age through adults, but mostly young people, are certified by taking the firearms training course that requires students to fire a .22 long rifle in four positions.
To Larson it makes sense to open up tax-supported gun ranges to the public.
This is a case where local police and sheriffs want the public to pay for exclusive use of facilities, such as the gun ranges. Granted, local police officers should have priority in using the gun ranges, no matter who pays for them, because officers have to be trained to protect the public.
Rather than oppose the public, a way should be found to teach firearms safety classes in publicly funded ranges, which in the long run could protect the safety of future gun owners.
Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Inc.