Walburg residents irked at outdoor gun range


The Firing Line on FM 972, which was cited by a state agency earlier this year for failing to get a construction permit, attracts as many as 20 people on a Saturday morning for concealed handgun license training. Homeowners in the Little Opossum Creek Valley neighborhood say the noise is unbearable when range members practice after dark. They have also complained that range customers drive too fast down the long dirt driveway that runs by some of their homes, kicking up dust and making it dangerous for children at play.

Mark Walker, who shares a property line with the range, estimates that his home is within 400 yards of a shooting bay. He says he has heard bullets ricochet overhead. “I had to crouch. I sent the owner a text to explain what happened but got no response,” he said.

About 20 homeowners have complained about the Firing Line, which is owned by Steve and Kristi Simank, who also own Guns Plus in Georgetown. Steve Simank, who said in an email to neighbors that he has made changes to address their concerns, would not comment about the matter to Statesman Watch. “We are working it out with them and don’t see any reason to air our dirty laundry in the newspaper,” he said.

The range, designed with shooting bays backed by dirt berms that absorb bullets, opened for business last August. Neighbors soon filed two excessive noise complaints with the Williamson County sheriff’s office, but spokesman Lt. John Foster said the gunfire is not a violation.

“There is nothing against operating a gun range, and there’s no action to take as long as they’re doing it safely and not shooting across a road,” Foster said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated and cited Simank in April after receiving a complaint from Walker that land near a creek bed was excavated to build the range. Andrea Morrow, spokeswoman for the commission, said Simank was issued a notice of violation for failing to obtain a permit to start construction.

“Because the construction was already completed, the violation was resolved,” she said.

According to a letter the commission sent Simank, no further action was required.

Kimberly and Jonathan Giffin, who have two small children, and Mark and Brenda Walker say negotiations with Simank have stalled. Neighbors first met with him in mid-April to voice their concerns. Simank responded with an email in early May assuring them that he wants to be a good neighbor and that his business is in compliance with state and federal laws and National Rifle Association rules for operating a gun range.

In the email, Simank said he would:

  • Begin a sign-in system and install a surveillance camera to record the license plate number of every vehicle that enters the property. Members now must unlock a gate to enter.
  • Ask members to slow down to minimize dust. He also posted children-at-play signs.
  • Restrict the use of Tannerite, an exploding target material.
  • Install a sound-reducing cover for the shooting bay where classes are held. He said soundproofing the entire range was not feasible.
  • Ask members to voluntarily cease shooting by 8 p.m. during daylight saving time and not begin before 10 a.m. on Sundays. The hours are posted at the range and on its website.

 

Simank said he would reassess issues at the end of the year and asked neighbors to “cease attempting to damage our business and hurt our livelihood.”

Walker said Simank’s changes don’t have “any teeth. He’s acknowledged our concerns in a letter, but that’s it.” Neighbors want Simank to stop target practice at 6:30 p.m. and not begin before noon on Sundays.

“We respect he has personal property rights, but he chose to put a firing range in a neighborhood,” said Jonathan Giffin. “We have rights, too, and we don’t want anyone to think all this is about the infringement on Second Amendment rights. Some of the homeowners have concealed handgun licenses. The range is unsupervised and is a safety and nuisance issue.”

Russell Borg, who lives a short distance from the range, can relate.

“I’ve lived here 27 years,” he said. “It’s why I moved here, to get away from the noise and traffic. I don’t like it one bit.”



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