November 21, 2018
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Neighbors up in arms over Bangor gun range

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Kevin Schmersal at the shooting range he built on his Bangor property. Bangor councilors will consider whether to allow for shooting ranges within city limits and if so, how to regulate those facilities.

A staunch Second Amendment advocate and certified NRA pistol instructor who runs a private shooting range on Pushaw Road is spurring Bangor officials to consider where firing ranges should be allowed within city limits.

The Business and Economic Development Committee, comprised of most city councilors, began a discussion Monday night that will likely lead in the coming weeks to the creation of a new ordinance regulating such ranges. Bangor allows weapons to be discharged in more rural parts of the city, but commercial firing ranges — where money is exchanged for use or services — are not permitted.

Kevin Schmersal, 65, has operated Castle Gate Arms for the last five or so years behind his home, where he lives with his wife, Patti. Schmersal said his range serves mostly as a classroom, where he invites trained firearm experts to teach paying participants how to use weapons safely. He recently hosted a course with an outside instructor who taught participants how to respond in an active-shooter situation.

“I’m trying to make firearm safety courses available to people. My feeling is that nobody can be overly prepared for any given situation,” Schmersal said. “This is what this range has always been about — doing important work.”

But his neighbors — whose complaints about noise from the shooting range helped bring the issue to the attention of city officials — don’t necessarily agree.

Some of those neighbors implored members of the committee at the Monday meeting to reconsider the new ordinance, because of the loud gunfire that echoes from Schmersal’s range, and the potential for intrusive noise from more ranges in the future.

“The objection I have is to call a shooting range a constitutionally protected event,” next-door-neighbor Jane Varney said. “You have personally the right to bear arms and nobody is trying to take any right to bear arms away from anyone.” Firing ranges, however, create “sounds of gunfire I have never heard except for on TV. It’s not just like hunting, and it’s not just discharging a firearm,” she said.

From a land-use perspective, putting firing ranges on the books means the city can set strict rules. “If we allow it for a permitted use, we might be able to put parameters on it that we don’t have control over now,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said.

Starting the dialogue to set parameters around the use, even if it’s unwanted by some residents, is necessary, Councilor Cary Weston said. “This is a very gray area at the moment. We’re going to take it from gray to black and white.”

Even so, neighbor Rick Varney asked, why does Bangor have to create room for firing ranges in the city at all?

“Think about where you live,” Varney told committee members. “When you buy and build your home there, and later on, when someone moves in beside you and opens a gun range. Does anyone at this table want that?”

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