Shooting facility deserves same consideration as other parks

One of the things life has taught me is that when given enough time to talk, people eventually will tell you what they truly believe. When it happens, you might experience what some call an “aha moment.”

One of my “aha moments” came Tuesday during the Clark County Commission meeting. The commission was discussing the Clark County Shooting Complex — formerly known as a park and as a range — its past, current and future financial status and what support the facility might receive from county coffers. During the conversation, someone asked about other county parks and recreation venues and whether they, like the shooting complex, were expected to be self-sustaining or if they received county funding to operate. The simple answer to that question is no.

As that discussion unfolded, commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said, “I don’t want to take money away from true recreation and pay for shooting.”

This statement sheds a new light on the subject of the shooting complex and those who use it for its intended purpose. For at least one commission member, and probably more, the shooting sports and all they entail are not “true recreation.” And by default, those who engage in shooting activities are not true recreationists. Therefore, neither firearms enthusiasts nor the public facility they use qualify to access the same financial resources as true parks or true recreational facilities.

Perhaps this explains why the Clark County Shooting Park was renamed the Shooting Range and then the Shooting Complex. If the word park still were included in the name, it would be difficult to deny its contribution to public recreation in the Las Vegas Valley.

While Giunchigliani’s statement was an expression of her personal philosophy, as one who earned his graduate degree in recreation management with an outdoor recreation emphasis, I found the statement perplexing. In the literature, as they say in academia, the shooting sports are listed along with hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, canoeing, bicycling and so forth as recreational pursuits. Though they more specifically are listed under the outdoor recreation category, they are considered to be recreative in nature and, therefore, recreation.

The state of Washington defines recreational target shooting as “the use of a firearm or bow and arrow on targets and the sighting in of rifles or other firearms.” Responsive Management is a public opinion and attitude survey research firm whose mission is to help outdoor recreation agencies “better understand and work with their constituents, customers and the public.” Their list of available research includes publications on shooting, shooters and various firearms-related recreation.

Since Responsive Management conducts its work on an international level, it must know what recreation is and isn’t.

In a 2006 study, Responsive Management found that 79 percent of Americans approve of recreational shooting, with most of them falling in the strongly approve category. The company’s research also shows that 18 percent of Americans who are 18 and older participate in some form of target shooting each year. Even on a county scale, 18 percent seems like a large market of possible shooting complex customers.

After a long discussion that involved comments from the public, the commission directed the county’s Park and Recreation folks to research ways of improving marketing efforts and planning, to look at how other similar public shooting facilities across the country operate and to evaluate the possibilities for privatization of managing the county-owned truly recreational shooting park.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.