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City Council Votes to Shut Down Public Shooting Range : Safety: Area residents complained that stray bullets had escaped the facility. Lawmakers decide not to renew operator's lease.

July 08, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Responding to reports of stray bullets, the City Council has decided to shut down the Long Beach Public Pistol Range at the end of the month.

The city has leased the range to a private operator, FRE Enterprises Inc. of Long Beach, since 1988. On a 7-1 vote, the City Council decided on Tuesday not to renew its lease, which expires July 31.

In recent years, area residents have reported that bullets have left the range, which is on Carson Street just west of the San Gabriel River Freeway. Apparently no one has been hurt. But in May, a bullet dented the door of an occupied car that was stopped on a nearby street. That was the impetus for Tuesday's action.

"This is a kind of a bittersweet thing for me," said Councilman Les Robbins, a Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant and gun enthusiast who led the campaign to shut the range. "I'm very sympathetic to the shooters, but at the same time, the overriding concern for public safety has to take precedence."

Robbins, whose district includes the range, had tried to persuade the City Council to take the same action last week. But the council deadlocked and referred the matter to its Public Safety Committee for review.

However, Councilman Evan Anderson Braude asked that the council take up the issue before the committee had a chance to review it. Braude said he was distracted and erred last week when he voted against closing the range.

Douglas S. Drummond was the only councilman to vote against closing the range. Warren Harwood was absent.

Drummond said the Public Safety Committee, which is composed of three council members, should have had a chance to consider the matter before the council made its decision.

"I don't think it would be proper to close down a business without making the proper investigation," Drummond said.

Chuck Emanuele, president of FRE Enterprises, said he will propose adding more safety measures in the hope of persuading the council to reconsider its decision. The range has three full-time and seven part-time employees, he said.

"No one can guarantee anything, but we deal in probability and risk factors," Emanuele said. "Since we have been operating that range . . . we have never had a worker, someone using the range or someone outside of the range injured by a bullet."

Range users said the closure would mean they would have to drive farther to practice with their weapons.

"Another range has been closed," said Ron Jung, a Diamond Bar resident who uses the range with other members of his shooting club. "There's no way to replace what was lost."

On the other hand, Karen Covey applauded the council action.

Covey and her husband, Richard, had stopped their car about a quarter of a mile from the range in May and were talking to friends when a bullet slammed into their door. Their 1-year-old son was in the back seat.

"I'm happy it will be closed at the end of the month," said Covey, a Lakewood resident. "I don't think it's soon enough."

The pistol range was built by the city in 1959. The Police Pistol Club of Long Beach, a nonprofit group that included local officers, operated the range until it was leased to the for-profit FRE Enterprises.

Between 30 and 70 people a day fire pistols and rifles at targets and take handgun safety classes there. Law enforcement officials, including U.S. Customs officers and prison guards, account for nearly half of the people who train at the facility, officials said.

Long Beach police officers train at their own range adjacent to the Public Pistol Range. The police range will continue operating.

Shooters at the public range fire north at targets that are set against steel and reinforced earthen backstops.

A number of bullets have strayed from the range in recent years, according to city reports. Those bullets were linked to the public range and not to the police range, because the police range faces the opposite direction.

After the May incident, officials said they spent about $4,000 installing barriers lined with steel to prevent bullets from leaving the public range.

Police officials inspected the range last month and said it appeared to be safe. But the report said there is always a chance another bullet could escape.

City officials said they hope to build indoor ranges for the police and public on nearby city property, south of Willow Street and just west of the San Gabriel River Freeway.

The city has requested bids from private firms to build the ranges on city land. The deadline for those proposals is Sept. 10.

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