Citizens concerned about safety of firing range

By Julie Fann
star staff

An Elizabethton family is concerned that a police department shooting range located off of Sugar Hollow Road is disturbing the peace in their neighborhood. For the past year, Dianna and Allen Buckles have been communicating with city officials and police to change what they feel is an unhealthy, and potentially dangerous, situation.
   "If not every day, then it's at least every other day, that we hear them shooting. It's keeping me from having a life in my own home," said Dianna Buckles. Buckles and her family say they hear shots during the day and at night at the range, located approximately three-tenths of a mile from their home.
   Allen Buckles filed a report with the sheriff's department in January 2001 stating a piece of shrapnel from the firing range had left a hole in a building he owns beside his home.
   "Instructions on a box of bullets for a .22 rifle say they are dangerous up to a mile. What they're shooting is much more powerful than that. They're human beings who make mistakes just like us, practicing up there," Buckles said.
   However, Police Chief Roger Deal said he doesn't believe bullets fired from the weapons officers use at the range could possibly travel the distance to the Buckles home, due to the way the range is situated.
   "I know with the way the range is built that officers are firing at targets located in the opposite direction from the complainant. Also, they're shooting into a big bank. A bullet would have to travel back toward the shooter to get to their home," Deal said.
   Deal said the EPD uses the shooting range approximately three to four times a year, and the department's SWAT team practices approximately once a month, but sometimes at a different location. The officers practice with .40 caliber handguns, while SWAT team members use AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.
   Other police departments also use the range. Carter County Sheriff John Henson said his officers practice approximately three to four times a year, and civilians can also take shooting lessons with his staff. He said there are about four of those classes a year that last two to three hours.
   In addition, the Unicoi Police Department and police officers with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Johnson City also use the shooting range approximately two to three times a year, according to representatives from those departments.
   City Manager Charles Stahl said he would be glad to review any evidence, such as a video tape, that justified the frequency that the shooting range is being used. However, he said he has not received such information, either from Buckles or law enforcement officials.
   "Our law enforcement must qualify per state law to remain certified. Obviously, to relocate that range would require additional dollars which we don't have in this city budget," Stahl said.
   Dianna Buckles said she has a video tape, with dates, which proves the range is being used on a regular basis. "But he (Charles Stahl) said he did not want to see the tape. He said, 'Take it to Roger Deal,'" she said. According to Buckles, the tape has 17 different dates recorded.
   Chief Deal and Charles Stahl said the shooting range has been at the same location for 20 years but that they just began receiving complaints two years ago, and only from the Buckles family. Buckles submitted a petition that lists 101 names of those who oppose the range. She said approximately 30 of those signatures are from residents who actually live in her neighborhood.