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Muskego moves to ensure gun club safety after incident

Experts to review, write safety standards to protect nearby homes from bullets

Jan. 14, 2013

Muskego - With a resident saying that he and his children hit the dirt in their backyard one afternoon due to gunfire believed to have come from a nearby gun club, the Muskego Common Council decided last week to try to set safety standards for gun ranges.

The incident that happened Nov. 18 was only the latest of 11 years of occasional complaints claiming that bullets have flown off the range and toward three homes, Muskego Police Capt. John LaTour said. The club has promised to do something about it, but complaints haven't stopped, he said.

An official of the Schultz Resort Rod and Gun Club, S8025 Schultz Lane, said people routinely hunt in the area but the gun club gets blamed any time there is a problem. The club also has instituted internal reforms since 2010 such as required safety training, testing, an access control system and video surveillance.

The club has berms and a baffle to catch the bullets, but city officials plan to get expert help to write an ordinance embodying up-to-date safety standards. When the gun club asks to renew its annual permit, the city will see if the club's safety arrangements meet those new standards, Mayor Cathy Chiaverotti said. The Schultz Resort Rod and Gun Club is the only private outdoor shooting range in the city, she said.

Within a month, she will have more information on the city's options and on cost, Chiaverotti said. She and the Finance Committee hope to tap into free assistance from the National Rifle Association that has gun range standards.

Change of direction

The club's goal is to turn the range so that marksmen aren't firing toward homes, club officials said.

That would involve building a new berm. The NRA helps clubs financially to build safe ranges and the Muskego club has been working toward qualifying for that help, said club past-president Mike Williams after the meeting. It can be costly to build berms, especially if donors can't be found for the materials and transportation, he said.

The 275-member club has been working for some time on buying the land the club sits on for $400,000, said current President Len Pilak. After forming an investment club and leasing the land back to the club, it was able to get a mortgage last year and buy the land, he said.

It has now filed to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that will enhance its fundraising, Pilak said.

Williams guessed it would take two years to turn the range.

Promises, promises

But the neighbors have heard promises before about the range being turned away from them and they had hoped city officials could have done more last week.

"It just keeps going on," said Gregg Schmidt of Mystic Drive who was in the yard that afternoon with his children and heard bullets whizzing past. The club promised the city in 2010 to turn the range the last time he and neighbors complained, he said.

"You guys are saying, 'They're going to do it this time,' " he said to the committee. "It's ludicrous. They keep firing at us."

He said after the meeting that he thought the city had more options when safety is at stake.

But under city ordinances, the only charge would be for reckless use of a weapon, LaTour said after the meeting.

"If people are at a firing range there is no way to prove reckless use," he said.

Neighbor David Helm reacted, "It was a waste of my time."

Complicating last week's debate was doubt that the gunfire came from the range. The range surveillance cameras showed that only a family was shooting at the time and they were shooting pistols, said Alderman Daniel Soltysiak, who viewed the footage. But hunting is done nearby and deer season started Nov. 17, Soltysiak said.

But police and neighbors were skeptical.

LaTour said after the meeting that pistols can fire the same kind of high-caliber ammunition as rifles and sound like them, too.

Similarly, Schmidt dismissed the possibility that the shots came from a hunter.

"No one was hunting back there," except his two neighbors, Schmidt said.

"There's not a chance," it was a hunter, he said.

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