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Clark County gun range underutilized precious gem

Nevadans aimed high when we set out to create the largest and most advanced shooting range in the world. But we kept a steady eye on our target. And today, with great pride, Nevada has hit the bull’s-eye.”

Those are the words of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., as he celebrated the grand opening of the Clark County Shooting Complex in March 2010. “Now your families and mine are fortunate to have such an impressive place to learn the skills of sport shooting — to learn the importance of safe shooting — to exercise our Second Amendment rights — and to celebrate our Western heritage. … Guns are part of what it means to live in the West. We hunt, we shoot and we do it responsibly. It’s who we are,” Reid said.

Rarely do I find myself on the same side of the aisle as Reid, but that day I was.

The grand opening event officially marked the end of a decades-long effort to create something that should have been built long before, especially given the uncontrolled growth in Southern Nevada that began in the mid-1980s.

Back in the days before the Las Vegas Valley became the place to be, it was a common and generally accepted practice for a family and friends to pack up a few firearms and drive to one of the many impromptu shooting ranges that were scattered in the desert on the outskirts of town.

However, urban sprawl absorbed an increasing number of those makeshift ranges, and new laws limited the places available to recreational shooters. They found themselves asking, “Where can we go?”

Unfortunately, the powers that be largely ignored the growing need for a public shooting range until the death of a man who was accidentally shot while riding his motorcycle in the desert. That incident shed light on the situation.

Upon learning of the problem, Reid became the driving force behind legislation that became Public Law 107-350 in December 2002 and conveyed to Clark County 2,900 acres of federally managed lands specifically for the development of a shooting range.

According to the law, “The purposes of this Act are to provide a suitable location for the establishment of a centralized shooting facility in the Las Vegas Valley; and to provide the public with opportunities for education and recreation; and a location for competitive events and marksmanship training.”

Since its official opening in 2010, the Clark County Shooting Complex has provided recreational shooters — residents and nonresidents alike — with that suitable location and centralized facility.

Shooter use varies with the time of year and weather conditions, but visitors will generally find the public rifle and pistol range full or nearly full during daytime operating hours.

Unfortunately, the complex hasn’t become the cash cow some thought it could or should be based on projections made when the Las Vegas Valley was in its economic heyday, and money seemed to fall from the sky.

That has at least one member of the Clark County Commission looking at the possibility of selling the shooting complex or privatizing its operation.

Luckily, Public Law 107-350 includes a provision that prevents politicians from giving away the farm, so to speak: “If Clark County ceases to use any parcel for the purposes described in subsection (b) — title to the parcel shall revert to the United States … and Clark County, Nevada, shall be responsible for any reclamation necessary to revert the parcel to the United States.”

In addition, $65 million in funding was provided through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and used for building the range. Guidelines for the use of that money require that Clark County own and maintain in perpetuity any facilities, trails or other features for which those funds are expended.

While those provisions appear to limit the county’s ability to dispose of the shooting complex, I remain concerned about the possible privatization of facility management and what that might mean for the cost of shooting at the range.

Something else to consider is advertising, or the lack thereof. In fiscal year 2013, Clark County spent only $9,800 to advertise the shooting complex, and that won’t buy you much. If what we need are more people using facilities at the shooting complex, perhaps increasing advertising expenditures is a good place to start.

The County Commission will discuss the shooting complex at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday in the Commission Chambers at the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway.

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.

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