Some private shooting range owners not pleased with Carson deal

November 23, 2011
photo - A couple spends some time shooting at the indoor range at  Whistling Pines Gun Club . Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE
A couple spends some time shooting at the indoor range at Whistling Pines Gun Club . Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE 

While many heralded the recent agreement between El Paso County and the U.S. Army to build a public shooting complex on Fort Carson property as brilliant, some owners of local businesses that offer similar weapons training and shooting opportunities aren’t as gung-ho.

Bob Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club, a membership club that has the area’s only indoor facility, said he’s worried that the new “world-class range,” as the future Fort Carson complex is being touted, will jeopardize private enterprise.

“For a lot of people this is a win/win. For us who own ranges, it’s not a win/win. The government should not compete with private business,” he told county commissioners before they signed the agreement with Fort Carson officials.

County leaders have taken a different stance.

Sheriff Terry Maketa said instead of taking away customers from others, he thinks the new Cheyenne Mountain Sports Shooting Complex will stimulate more interest in the pastime and generate enough customers for everyone. His deputies also will use one of the ranges for training; Maketa has said the current range local law enforcement use near Pikes Peak Community College is too small.

Commissioner Dennis Hisey agrees, saying he believes shooters will proliferate, much like what Gov. John Hickenlooper has said happened after he opened breweries and restaurants in Colorado.

Holmes isn’t so sure his that his family’s livelihood can withstand what he calls the “Santa Claus” of the industry — a new, $750,000 complex with six supervised ranges and up to 600 yards of shooting distance. The longest shooting distance now available is 250 yards at Dragon Man’s, currently the area’s only public shooting range. 

The county initiated the search for a new avenue for public shooting in 2009, after the U.S. Forest Service closed a popular, unsupervised outdoor shooting area off Rampart Range Road, following an accidental death.

The county doesn’t own the land, so reopening that range wasn’t an option. But county leaders have been concerned about the illegal target practice that’s continued there and said they had requests from residents to provide an option. The county looked at building a new range in several locations, according to staff, before striking the deal with Fort Carson.

Grants will pay for the complex to be built. It’s tentatively scheduled to open next spring. Additions to include classroom space, restaurants and possibly an indoor range are being planned, pending contributions to a new nonprofit, Soldier’s Friend Foundation, which was formed to raise money for the complex.

County officials have said their intent is not to compete with private business but enhance the community’s choices. All five commissioners are staunch defenders of gun rights.

Commissioner Sallie Clark said she’s one of 19,000 county residents to hold a conceal-carry weapons permit. Commissioner Amy Lathen said all members of her family shoot, and she intends to continue patronizing Dragon Man’s, east of Colorado Springs, because it’s closer to their home.

“Whatever they do, we’ll do better — we shoot down competition,” is the response of Mel Bernstein, who’s owned Dragon Man’s for 30.

Bernstein said he’s built a loyal customer base, with up to 400 gun enthusiasts shooting each weekend, and has diversified his business enough, adding a paint ball park, a dirt bike and quad track and a historical military museum, that he’s not concerned.

“I’m a New Yorker. We love competition,” Bernstein said. “We have night shoots and other events. We can do more than the government can do.”

Contact Debbie Kelley: 636-0235 Twitter @inkywoman
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