Rifle range closed again in Spencer

Gun range closed again
Spencer gun range closed again

SPENCER, Ind. (WTHR) - A gun range under fire earlier this year is facing trouble again.

Neighbors first told us about the danger in Spencer in March: bullets flying into their homes.

Now the outdoor rifle range has been closed by the zoning board, even though no more shots have hit any houses.

Owen County leaders say they need more proof that the place is safe.

Back in March, neighbors in Spencer were scared because of dozens of bullets found in their walls, their yards and their garages.

"There's a hole up there where you can see the light where the bullet came through,” Jerry Wise pointed out.

"It's very scary, very frightening,” added neighbor Brozia Drake. “We don't feel safe outside. We were prisoners in our own home."

At that time, they said all those bullets were fired from the gun range across the field behind their homes.

Investigators with Indiana State Police thought so, too, according to their incident reports.

The homeowners filed a lawsuit.

And Precision Gun Range, which denied it was at fault, voluntarily closed to improve safety.

Last week, the rifle range reopened after managers brought in an engineering expert, then raised their outdoor berms by three feet and installed new baffles for protection.

"We do not want anything to happen to the public or anybody,” said Precision Gun Range Manager Kim Bartlett. “We went above and beyond and got one of the national leaders to do this. We do have a ‘no blue sky’ and we have steel on our windows and this range is now high enough. It's above specs right now than what it should be. We have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that our customers, our staff and the community is safe."

But county leaders fear it's not safe enough. Owen County’s zoning board just revoked the permit for the rifle range Tuesday night, essentially shutting it down again.

Board member Robin Cooper explained that an expert, hired by the range itself, doesn't prove everything's fixed.

They’d like an independent inspection with improvements verified.

"I think what they're trying to do is great and it's a step in the right direction, but I don't think that one report is sufficient enough for us as a board,” Cooper said. “If that improvement is truly the case, then we have to have state police revisit that and see if that's truly the case that bullets are not leaving that range. But we need more than their expert to state that."

Guy Relford, a gun rights attorney, represents the homeowners.

"I've run an outdoor range. I operated Eagle Creek pistol range for five years and we had baffles 30, 40 yards downrange,” Relford explained. He also said that Precision Gun Range has never admitted that it caused the original danger, therefore the improvements to safety can’t be proven.

“The first step in fixing the problem is identifying the problem and they've never identified what allows bullets to leave the range and until they come to grips with that, then any fix they've gone through, by definition, is inadequate because it doesn't incorporate the cause of the problem to begin with,” Relford said.

Relford says neighbors don't want the business permanently closed, just guarantee they're not in danger.

In order for the range to reopen, Cooper told us, it will need to come back with multiple independent reports proving it's safe.

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