Council panel advances gun range measure

HILO — A study of locations for one or more shooting ranges was advanced Tuesday by a County Council panel that voted unanimously to endorse the concept and support a working group to create a report.

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HILO — A study of locations for one or more shooting ranges was advanced Tuesday by a County Council panel that voted unanimously to endorse the concept and support a working group to create a report.

The county currently has no shooting range, forcing gun educators, enthusiasts and those who must train on guns for their jobs, to either fly to another island, seek permission from a private landowner or take their chances illegally shooting targets in hunting areas regulated by the state.

More than two dozen testifiers, and another 143 letter writers, were overwhelmingly in support. They included law enforcement, shooting instructors, land owners, youth activities counselors and hunters.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from our constituency,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, sponsor of the bill.

The county Game Management Advisory Commission would be the point group for the study, drawing information from public and private sector individuals, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, cosponsor of the bill, told the Committee on Public Works and Parks and Recreation.

“As long as it’s legal to bear arms, (a shooting range) needs to be provided,” said Commission Chairwoman Naniloa Pogline.

Resolution 246 does not specify any particular area for a shooting range, but a handful of Waikoloa residents testified against putting one near them.

The nonprofit On Target Inc. has been trying for almost 15 years to get a shooting range approved for Puuanahulu, but met with delays from state funding sources and resistance from the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, which says the location could pose noise problems for residents at Waikoloa resorts.

The resolution, after passing the committee 8-0, next goes to the council for a final reading later this month.

The new working group would determine the type of shooting venues desired, for example rifle, pistol, shotgun, air gun, archery or other shooting sports. It would also determine basic infrastructure such as how much land would be needed and create a list and description of shooting venues desired, along with the required infrastructure and the priority of construction.

Details such as design estimates, timing of the phasing in construction, operational costs and sources of revenue would also be determined by the working group.

Supporters estimate there are 250,000 guns on the island, a number they derived from population averages. That estimate would include police firearms and those owned by collectors, for example.

The Hawaii Police Department has 56,300 active firearm registrations, according to a spokesman.

Guns must be registered when purchased, brought onto the island or when they change hands. Registration is not required for black powder and pre-1899 firearms, and an unknown number of firearms precede registration laws, making it difficult to get an actual count.

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Steve Jacquier, a landowner in a 20-acre-lot farm-lots subdivision in Puna, agreed a range is needed. In addition to using his own gun to shoot pigs, Jaquier allows police officers to use his land to sight, or calibrate, their firearms. He said a neighbor has called the police complaining about gun noise, in at least one case having officers appear even as other officers were sighting their guns there.

“We need a place to legally shoot,” said Lee Loy. “It’s just that simple.”

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