Ordinance against shooting would require a rewrite.
Macon County is home to two shooting ranges, both of which present challenges to the user. The Dirty John shooting range is closer to Nantahala than Franklin, about an hour to an hour and a half round trip for most Franklin residents while Moss Knob, the range on Ellijay, is only slightly closer in distance. Neither are much more than a flat area with a few posts meant to hold up user provided targets, but even those have been so damaged by the guns being shot repeatedly at them that they hardly serve the purpose well anymore. Both ranges require users to travel quite a ways off of the beaten path and both are outdoors.
Needless to say, a lot of people may choose to stay at home instead of going to the trouble of using these ranges, but Franklin resident and owner of Mountain Firearms, Bob Simpson is looking to give shooters one more option with his new business plan.
Simpson recently approached the Town Board to propose opening an indoor shooting range. He proposed using property off of Ulco Drive that housed Burcliff Industries at one time and is now partially used by Nantahala Flooring. The range would use 10,000 square foot of free space to bring the project together. According to Simpson, the closest indoor ranges are in Asheville and Brevard.
The range would not just benefit individuals looking to fire off a few rounds however. The facility could be utilized by an array of different groups who need to host training sessions.
“The advantages of this are that our local police departments will be able to use it, Southwestern will be able to use it,” said Simpson. “There's no education for our children, there's for the scouts to shoot.”
At last week's Board of Aldermen meeting, Franklin Police Officer Steve Apel confirmed that the range could be used for the department's training requirements and tests.
“If certain standards that are required for the tests are met, then yes it could be used for our certification tests,” said Apel.
According to Simpson the range would be National Rifle Association sanctioned, it would be insured and would employ certified instructors. Simpson plans on putting a training space in the building as well as ranges for the public and believes it would provide about 20 jobs to the area.
The current zoning designation of the building is secondary commercial which allows for indoor recreational activities. The issue is whether the interpretation of the wording allows for an indoor firing range to fall under the title of indoor recreational activity and according to Town Attorney John Henning Jr., it does.
“We looked at other municipalities and there have been a lot of them that have put gun ranges in to the category of indoor recreational activity,” said Henning.
According to local ordinance, it is unlawful to shoot a gun inside the city limits. The ordinance itself resembles other ordinances across the state, but does not have an exception for commercial use, like at a shooting range as some municipalities have.
“There is the problem that it is unlawful to discharge a firearm in the city limits of Franklin unless your an officer of the law,” said Henning. “The town would have to change that ordinance in some way. I think the least drastic thing to do would be to say unless it is at a fully licensed, properly permitted gun facility and then you may say only indoors.”
Henning recommended looking back to the original ordinance and why it was established in the first place, while proceeding with care.
The tone of the town board seemed to be supportive during last week’s board meeting, which could indicate that an indoor range could eventually be in Franklin’s future. The ordinance that is on the books could very well be changed if the aldermen see fit.
“I've heard of a few concerns,” said Mayor Joe Collins. “There's the noise and bothering the neighbors, stray bullets being a safety concern, and the issue of scaring livestock. If it's bulletproof and sound proof, then none of those three are an issue.”
“I've been in a few indoor shooting ranges,” allowed Alderman Bob Scott. “They tend to be expensive and as secure as Fort Knox. There's no bullets getting out of those things at all.”
Simpson would like the 12-lane range to be constructed this summer or in the early portion of fall. Upon learning of his aspirations, the board voted to allow Henning to proceed with the rewording of the ordinance.