Woodland man wants own shooting range

Retiree asks city to change code to accommodate him




WOODLAND — Bill Dunlap is tired of driving 30 minutes just to fire a gun. The retiree frequently travels to public shooting ranges in Camas or Portland to perfect and maintain his aim.

So now he wants to build a gun range in his backyard — on a quiet residential street in the Woodland city limits. He says it would be soundproof and bulletproof, but that hasn’t stopped some of his neighbors and one prominent city official from sniping at the idea.

“Ever since I can remember, I think I had a B.B. gun before I could talk, and I’ve shot all my life. I like to stay in practice. When you don’t shoot a lot, you kind of lose your edge a little bit. I like to be a good shot,” Dunlap said.

He said he would only use his shooting range for about 20 minutes once a week, or when he had friends over who wanted to safely show off a new gun.

There’s a hitch to his plan, though: Gun ranges aren’t allowed in Woodland, and they definitely aren’t allowed in residential areas like Lilac Lane, where Dunlap is building a new house. Technically, it’s illegal to discharge any guns within Woodland city limits.

Dunlap is asking the city of Woodland to change its code to allow private indoor shooting ranges in residential areas. In spite of some opposition, the city is considering his request and examining what special rules that might be needed to ensure safety.

“I don’t think anybody is going to be able to hear it if it’s built correctly,” Dunlap said Tuesday.

Dunlap said he would build his 30-foot-long indoor gun range inside his new shop. He’s offered to follow safety standards outlined in a handbook by the National Rifle Association. The range’s walls would be bulletproof and soundproof, and an HVAC system would control gunpowder fumes.

Yet Dunlap’s new neighbors aren’t satisfied with his promises. Brian Ripp said he wasn’t aware of Dunlap’s plans when he bought his new house on Lilac Lane last month. Ripp’s property is adjacent to Dunlap’s but is separated by a stormwater pond.

“While I do support having a gun range in rural, commercial or industrial zones, I do not support having this facility in a residential area,” Ripp told Woodland City Council members Monday.

“Residential zoning should be areas where families can safely raise their children and not have to worry about bullets escaping a gun range and harming one of their kids,” he said. Ripp has two children, ages two and five.

His mother, Mari Ripp, is the city’s clerk/treasurer, and she also opposes the proposed changes to city ordinances as private citizen. At Monday’s council meeting, she stepped out of her official position to address the council on the range proposal.

“We are a family that use guns regularly for hunting, and we target practice frequently, but there’s a place for indoor gun ranges — and a residential area is not the place,” Ripp told the council. “Accidents happen. Things are overlooked and forgotten, and this code applies to all citizens, not just one. Promises to build it safely and per code are just that.”

Under a proposed new ordinance, the city would allow private indoor gun ranges, with restrictions. Among them: No outdoor private ranges would be allowed; the range would have to be designed by an NRA-approved architect or engineer, and it would have to follow standards outlined in an NRA handbook. The licensed range would have to be insured. It would need inspection by the city and the police department every five years. And there would have to be an “adequate” backstop to prevent stray bullets.

But Mari Ripp argued that there are too many unanswered questions about how the city would regulate noise and odors, how it would enforce and inspect private gun ranges and whether the city would be liable for any accidents. Brian Ripp asked how the fumes and noise would affect wildlife and questioned what an “adequate” backstop means.

The proposal made it to what was supposed to be its final reading Monday night, but the city council tabled the discussion until it can hear the advice of an expert at a workshop. There is no date yet set for the workshop, and the mayor and city administrator are just starting to look for a consultant.

Mayor Will Finn said there’s a lot in the city code that needs to be clarified. In one part of the city code, it says guns are only allowed to be fired inside of a “bona fide” shooting range. But because there are no zoning laws for shooting ranges, the city by default doesn’t allow any shooting ranges inside of its city limits.

Even if the council approved private indoor gun ranges, Finn pointed out that the price tag for building one to code will probably be too high for many Woodland residents. Building an indoor gun range for high-caliber weapons could cost up to $60,000, Dunlap estimates.

“These aren’t going to be popping up all over town. This is a substantial investment,” Finn said in an interview.

But Brian Ripp worries that some people will take advantage of the new law.

“Who will enforce and stop a citizen from putting a few sandbags up in the basement, firing away and calling it a shooting range? I have lived in Woodland nearly my entire life, and I know there will be people that will try to push this envelope,” he said.

On a Facebook page about Woodland news, a handful of people agreed with the Ripps that gun ranges only belong in commercial, rural or industrial zones. But several were open or supportive of the idea, and some argued that private indoor gun ranges could promote gun owner safety and education.

Dunlap said he likely will only shoot air rifles, which are quieter and less powerful.

“In my opinion, anybody that would feel unsafe around a gun range that’s indoor just doesn’t understand the technology,” he said.