Gun Club Neighbors Say They're Not Interested in Shutting It Down

by Christopher Dunagan & Derek Sheppard

Kitsap Sun

September 18, 2010

CENTRAL KITSAP — A rifle’s shot preceded the crackle of tree branches near a hiking trail. A “sharp ping” in a living room startled a young girl who noticed a hole in the window feet from her seat. Nearly a dozen ricocheted bullets were found in gutters and along one side of a house. A woman heard a loud pop and looked up to see the kitchen skylight shattered.

These accounts are part of the evidence the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office has filed in the case against the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club.

Did the bullets come from the club, and ultimately, is the club safe?

The second question is why the prosecutor’s office said it acted now, but neighbors living around the range have been voicing concerns to county agencies for years. Club officials have denied any wrongdoing in the lawsuit, which alleges it didn’t follow development codes, may have infringed upon wetlands, has expanded beyond its historic use and poses a danger to the community.

It’s a balance between rights and safety, which can lead to complicated legal arguments, according to legal experts.

Neighbors said they’ve done their own research.

“We did a hell of a lot of research,” said Skip Junis, with stacks of papers and maps spread across the dining room table of his Central Kitsap home. He’s part of a group of about 22 to 25 residents, calling themselves the core of CK Citizens 4 Safe and Quiet Neighborhoods, which has been expressing concerns about the gun club. The group claims to have signatures from about 200 households in a 4-mile radius who have signed petitions about an alleged increase in noise from the club in recent years.

“It’s not just one neighborhood,” he said.

The goal, he said, is not to shut the club down. It’s to make sure the range is inspected for safety and environmental standards, and to make sure it operates within the scope it was when the county ruled in 1993 that Kitsap’s four gun ranges were allowed as “nonconforming uses.” If the club wants to expand, it should follow the same rules as any other developer, the group contends.


When Junis and his wife moved to their home about 1.6 miles northeast of the range in 2000, sound wasn’t an issue.

“We never heard the gun club,” he said.

Prosecutors contend the club has expanded dramatically and caused much more noise than historic norms by increasing the shooting hours, the types of large-caliber weapons being fired, and firing at explosives.

One of the key figures in legal filings is Terry Allison, who has lived adjacent to the range on Seabeck Highway for 22 years. He is a self-professed “gun enthusiast,” a former member of the club and a Navy veteran. But he has serious concerns about the safety of the club’s facilities.

“Owning a gun and having bulldozer does not make you a range designer,” he said.

Having been a member, he said the club members are extremely careful on the range, but he believes the facilities are not capable of containing rounds from high-caliber weapons being fired there. Other rounds are likely ricocheting off rocks in the earthen berms, he suspects. He’s found nearly a dozen in his yard, according to legal filings.

“I feel strongly my family is in physical danger,” he said.

While the CK Citizens 4 Safe and Quiet Neighborhoods contends it has signatures from hundreds angered over the increased noise, others haven’t noticed much difference.

Lyn Morris, who’s lived on Marks Road about a mile southeast of the range since 1999 and isn’t part of the lawsuit, said the sound seems fairly constant.

“I hear it, but I haven’t had any stray bullets fly my way,” she said. “Once I’m in the house I don’t hear it.”

Some express concern that nearby Klahowya Secondary School, about 1.45 miles north of the club, could be in the path of stray bullets.

“There has been no safety concern related to the club that we’re aware of,” said Central Kitsap School District spokesman David Beil. The school was built in 1997.

“You can hear noise from the range,” he said.

An avid shooter himself, Allison sees it as a balance between operating a safe gun club, and protecting the rights of property owners around it.

“We need a safe place to shoot that respects the rights of the community,” he said.


Some have argued that since the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club established its shooting range before most residents moved nearby, the rights of the club take precedent over neighborhood concerns.

On the other hand, some neighbors have argued that their rights are violated if a single bullet strays onto their land.

Neither position holds up entirely, according to legal experts, who say the courts have established the need to balance people’s interests under legal theories of “nuisance” and “trespass.”

John Weaver, who teaches property law at Seattle University School of Law, said nuisance theory is normally applied to noise, smoke and pollution. For larger objects, such as bullets and golf balls, the person who sends an object onto a neighboring property is likely to be accused of trespass.

“The litigation on golf courses is all over the map,” he said. “Some people take the position that you take your chances when you move in next to a golf course. Other cases have held that it’s the golf course’s obligation to do something about the problem, such as put up a giant screen.”

Under nuisance law, as more people move into an area, the courts shift the balance in favor of the greater number of people affected by the problem, he said.

Tom Andrews, who teaches property law at the University of Washington Law School, said the courts must weigh the effects on all the parties: “Do the benefits of the existing activity justify the harms being imposed on those affected.”

Exceptions to this balancing act can be established, however. Under “right-to-farm” laws, people moving near a farm that produces odors and noise have no legal right to complain, provided the farm operates in a reasonable manner.

The courts have established that neighbors bear some responsibility if they have “moved toward the nuisance,” such as building near a gun range. If the problem increases, however, the balance in a nuisance case could shift toward the neighbors’ interests.

The legal notion of trespass by flying objects is not as simple as a neighbor arguing that bullets and golf balls should never enter his property, Andrews said.

“One can trespass on another’s land with bullets,” he said, “but intentional trespass requires the actor to know with substantial certainty that the intrusion will happen.”

In cases involving a golf course or shooting range, a jury would have to be convinced that the owners knew that projectiles were leaving the property, Andrews said. If one can prove trespass, then the fact that the neighbors arrived later is less of a factor.

If actual intent of trespass cannot be proven, then the fact that bullets are leaving a gun range may be used to charge the responsible party with negligence, Andrews said. But in a negligence case, one has to show that there is actual harm caused by the action.

Finally, when government gets involved — as in the lawsuit filed by Kitsap County against Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club — land-use regulations often come into play.

When a landowner substantially changes the use of his property or the intensity of the use, he may lose his “grandfathered” status and may be required to come into compliance with existing land-use rules, Andrews said.

“There is a lot of litigation around what is a substantial change,” he said. Grandfathered activities get to “morph a little,” he said, but courts are often called on to decide when changes become “substantial.”

If KRRC has made substantial changes to its facilities or its property, then county code dictates that the shooting range must comply with up-to-date safety standards — which the code specifically says are based on National Rifle Association guidelines.