In the burgeoning community of Arvada, northwest of Denver, hundreds of people packed a high school auditorium on June 28, 2016, to protest a proposed outdoor shooting range planned near Highway 93 in Jefferson County, near hundreds of homes being built nearby.
The range, Jefferson Public Shooting Range, has been in the works since 2013, and would include up to 30 lanes for rifle and pistol shooting. Jefferson County officials hope a shooting range will put a stop to illegal dispersed shooting on the Front Range.
An appointed committee issued its report in July 2014 that identified the Arvada site as an appropriate location for an outdoor shooting range. The following year, the City of Arvada approved its 30-year Arveda Blunn/Pioneer Master Plan for a 1,600 acre site which included the proposed shooting range location.
The official reasoning behind a public shooting range was:
“A growing population includes additional firearm owners who are looking for safe places to practice and enjoy their sport. Existing outdoor ranges cannot easily expand for a variety of reasons. Also many public shooting locations have closed because they were adversely impacting public lands, were unsafe, or caused environmental problems. While there are several private indoor shooting ranges in and around Jefferson County, there are very limited public outdoor shooting locations. Many firearm owners desire an outdoor facility that is safe, sensitive to the environment and neighbors, and useful to families and all levels of shooters.”
Tom Hoby, director of Open Space and Parks for Jefferson County, said nearly one of three Jefferson County residents owns a firearm and there are not many public ranges in or around the county at which to practice marksmanship. That means that shooters head into nearby federal forest land to use their weapons, leaving behind trashed targets, denuded hillsides and pounds of lead from spent ammunition.
Hoby went on to say that the new Jefferson County shooting range would be built with the latest controls to ensure the safety of those firing weapons and those living in close proximity to the range. It would also have ways of capturing and removing lead contamination at the site.
To appease potential concerns of nearby residents, the city commissioned a noise study and noise mitigation plan, the preliminary of which was presented in public meeting on May 31.
Approximately 50 people attended that initial presentation, some of which spoke about the noise impact the range would have on their otherwise quiet neighborhoods.
Jefferson County scheduled and held another public meeting on the shooting range June 28, during which final noise study results were presented.
During the interim between meetings, opposition to the concept had been growing.
Nearly 300 people attended this second public hearing to sound off about the proposed outdoor shooting range.
Most of those who took to the microphone railed against the range as an inappropriate facility that will have negative noise impacts on an area that is experiencing rapid residential growth, with hundreds of homes going up in several neighborhoods in booming northwest Arvada.
Other expressed concern that their property values would decrease because of the nearby gun range.
Safety was another issue brought up at the meeting. A resident who lives in the Leyden Rock neighborhood, expressed concern about how the county-owned range might affect a future elementary school planned for her still-growing neighborhood.
“Will Jefferson County be willing to build a school so close to a shooting range and right in its direction?” Amy Woodley asked. “What about the safety of the children?”
Others complained that they believed it unfair to have “a shooting range imposed on them” after many of them had already purchased their homes and were living there.
But one resident from the same neighborhood said he was warned by his real estate agent that there could be a shooting range built in the area when he bought several years ago. He said he has to drive two hours to fire his guns and said the metro area needs more venues for firearms owners.
The demand for shooting ranges was causing people to look for places to shoot, as the only two remaining ranges in the county could not keep up with the demand. Often, people used makeshift shooting venues, generally on Forest Service land, where trees are shot up and lead from spent ammunition contaminates the ground.
The final plan presented at the meeting indicated there will also be sound mitigation measures — including a firing shed, berms and baffles — put in place to dampen the noise, and would be designed to be able to capture and recycle lead while keeping errant bullets from hitting hikers and passers-by.
But not all in attendance were against the range. Some complained that there was nowhere nearby to safely shoot guns so people were doing it illegally.
Murph Widdowfield, a longtime resident of Jefferson County, said the need for places where gun owners can practice their hobby is a critical amenity. He also pointed out a range also presents a measure of safety for larger society.
“To be a safe gun owner, a person needs to stay proficient with a gun,” he said.
A crowd poll was also conducted with 286 votes. Fifty-nine percent strongly oppose the gun range, while 27 percent strongly support it.
It will be months before a final decision is made by Jefferson County commissioners.