Home on the range?

Everyone agrees: The firing range that Officer Donald Guge has opened on his property in an Emma neighborhood is perfectly within Buncombe County law.

“It’s on my land, and I meet all legal statutes,” asserts Guge, who works in law enforcement in the county. He moved into the neighborhood about a year ago.

“This is a non-issue,” he says firmly.

Some of Guge’s Shelby Road neighbors disagree. It’s noise, not safety, that concerns them. The Saturday in late March when Guge and about 10 fellow law-enforcement officers christened the range with a full day of firing was a nightmare, they say.

“You’ve never heard anything like it,” exclaims Ruth Filkins, who has lived in her house on Shelby Road for 30 years.

“It’s just like you’re having a big thunderstorm. You can’t sleep. I was a total wreck. I’m 75 years old, and I can’t tolerate that,” she declares.

“Have you ever listened to a full day of gunfire? It will actually drive you crazy,” says 15-year resident Jack Garrett, who lives with his wife and five sons about a quarter-mile down the street from Guge. “[Guge] has not thought one minute about anyone in this community,” charges Garrett.

The unhappy neighbor led a petition drive against the range that netted between 40 and 50 signatures from other neighborhood residents, he says. He presented the list to the county commissioners, and he and two other neighbors complained about Guge’s range at a Board of Commissioners meeting in April.

Buncombe County has had a noise ordinance since 1992, but it offers no protection against the firing range: The ordinance specifically exempts “any firearm club, organization or association” from being bound by its restrictions.

Until 1995, the ordinance had specified that such groups had to be affiliated with the National Rifle Association, but an amendment that year dropped that criterion. Now, the county doesn’t formally define what constitutes a firing range, but uses a “common-sense approach to the definition,” explains County Attorney Joe Connolly, who has visited the range and pronounced it legal.

Garrett, however, fails to see the logic behind the exemption. “The noise ordinance actually makes it harder for me,” he reasons. “It sets a shooting club totally free. One can’t [fire a gun], but a dozen can.”

If a property owner wants to discharge a firearm within 300 feet of a neighboring, occupied house, he or she has to get the neighbor’s permission. There is a house within 300 feet of Guge’s range, but it was built after the range was started, and the house is still unoccupied, says Guge.

Guge’s group, the Area I Shooters Club, has a charter and about 80 members, mostly fellow law-enforcement officers, he says. There are no dues. The range, argues Guge, meets a need in the local law-enforcement community.

There are three firing ranges in Buncombe County expressly for use by law-enforcement personnel, but it’s difficult and inconvenient for officers and instructors to schedule meeting times, says Lt. Tony Case, a firearms instructor with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department. By law, a firearms instructor must be present whenever there is shooting at one of these ranges, he explains. Because Guge’s facility is private, the law does not apply to it.

Officers of the law like to practice shooting, says Case, adding, “I wish we just had a range where there was someone there every day.”

While the county-run ranges are “restrictive,” says Guge, his facility is a place where law officers can gather with their wives, children and girlfriends and socialize, as well as practice shooting. No alcohol is allowed, and safety is a top priority, he notes.

“It’s like a training technique, but it’s more comfortable,” says Officer Daryell Ledford of the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department, a friend of Guge’s who joined him at the range one recent Saturday.

As the pair practiced hitting targets with their .45-caliber pistols, neighbors Kevin and Kandy Creasman stopped by to offer their support for the range. The Creasmans, who live beyond a hill that slopes up past Guge’s range, say the gunfire doesn’t bother them.

Kandy adds that she’s glad there’s a steady stream of police officers on her road.

The range itself is still a work in progress. It’s about 20 yards long and the width of a roomy driveway. The ground is red dirt, with 12-foot-high dirt banks all around. Two targets stand at one end — black silhouettes of the upper bodies of men.

A 5-foot wall of tires lines one side of the range, inside the dirt banks. Eventually, the tire wall will stand eight feet tall and ring the entire range — which should help muffle the sound, says Guge.

His vision for the range includes a grassy area, a domed roof, and a couple of picnic tables out back, for cookouts.

According to county Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol, the noise ordinance, too, is a work in progress. When the commissioners pass ordinances, they know that they will have to revisit them for fine-tuning, he explains. Sobol says he doesn’t know why the gun clubs were exempted from the ordinance, which he expects to come up for review sometime this summer.

But even if commissioners amend the noise ordinance again, Guge’s firing range will most likely be grandfathered in, said Sobol.

Guge, meanwhile, is unhappy that his range has even been a topic of conversation at commissioners’ meetings. “There is no issue here. What is going on here is completely legal, as established by North Carolina law and the Buncombe County Commissioners,” he says.

“Just because Jack Garrett doesn’t like the color of my house, do I have to change the color of my house?” he asks.

There hasn’t been much shooting going on at the range in the past couple of months, while Guge has been reinforcing its dirt banks and recovering from a motocross injury.

But Guge has every intention of putting his range to use in the future: Shooting, he says, is a part of life. “We’re in the mountains,” he reasons. “We’re going to shoot.”

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