[Community scuffle]

Stopping power

The long-standing Desert Sportsman’s Rifle & Pistol Club could be the latest victim of our Valley’s ever-encroaching sprawl

Illustration by J. Alex Stamos

We’re bouncing around on a dirt road in an old van at the Desert Sportsman’s Rifle & Pistol Club talking about the pesky suburbanites. Out here—near Red Rock Canyon’s beautiful ridges, under a wide-open blue sky, with the occasional pop of gunfire in the background—there’s no love for development. This is the iconic Old West: The man navigating the rough hills in his “work truck,” complete with two coffee Thermoses, is the gray-bearded executive of the gun club, Arlie Anderson. The club itself—one of four outdoor ranges in the Vegas Valley—is a series of berms tucked behind a hill on the south side of Highway 159 that’s been here since 1958. That’s 1958—the year the Stardust opened on the Strip—well before Summerlin started crawling westward from Vegas.

But things change. If the open space and crackle of gunfire are the Old West’s image, the rows of densely packed houses and graded land are the symbols of the New West. When Anderson and I crest a hill on the range and see the new neighborhood across the highway looking back, he sums it up: “It upsets me.”

He recently appeared before County Commissioners to defend his club’s right to stay right where it is after Summerlin residents began complaining that the pops of gunfire bothered them. Desert Sportsman’s Bureau of Land Management land-use agreement comes up for renewal with Clark County every 10 years, and it was time for that renewal this March—a process that has been simple and successful every decade. But this time, Summerlin’s reps appealed to the Commission to cut Desert Sportsman’s life short.

“This is one of those instances where old Las Vegas rubs up against new Las Vegas,” says Tom Warden, vice president of community and government relations for Summerlin developer Howard Hughes. “There was a time when it was appropriate to have [the gun range] there. But things change. The very reason that this is a recurring-use permit is that someday this may not be appropriate ...

“It’s the sounds of the Gaza Strip. If you live out there and you’re hearing .50 caliber rifles, that’s loud stuff,” Warden says. “Or the big shotguns, or even the .45 handguns can be very loud.” Additionally, Warden says a school is planned about a half-mile away from the site, which presents questions of safety.

Homeowners who bought in this area of Summerlin were asked to sign a disclosure statement that includes a paragraph stating, “Homes located in the westerly portion of Summerlin may be affected by noise from a gun club shooting range ... the sound of gunfire may be heard from some homes.”

Anderson says the gun club, which is a members-only organization of about 2,000, has never had any stray-fire incidents and is host to countless law-enforcement training events. In fact, as we round the dirt-road corner down into a low-lying range, there are a dozen Metro officers training with handguns at targets set up against a 16-foot soft dirt backstop. Other ranges inside the club include one specifically designed for youth shooters, with higher berms, and some for long-range shooting, all pointing generally southward, or away from the development in the north and east sections of the Red Rock gateway. A high hill protects the neighborhoods directly to the east—The Ridges and Red Rock Country Club (although Warden says gunfire can be heard there)—but there is no natural barrier between the range and the newer subdivisions being built across the highway to the north. From the range, you can see those new houses and the land graded for more on a parcel temporarily called “Village 24.”

“I think [opposition to the gun range] is more focused on that future development across the highway. There aren’t lots yet. These would be the sites of future homes. The noise level is the issue. There are 10,000 homes that can hear the chatter of automatic-weapon fire if the wind is blowing a certain way.”

The hope is that business from the nonprofit range would migrate toward the new Clark County Shooting Park on the northernmost part of Decatur, set to open this spring. That range, which is public, is located on 2,500 acres compared to Desert Sportsman’s 480 acres.

The Shooting Park received its own share of neighborly resistance, and moved its shotgun range further inside its boundaries to make it a mile from residential property. By comparison, the Las Vegas Sportsman Club, a private gun club at the north end of Durango, is 1,108 feet away from homes; The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Range on East Carey Avenue is 1,779 feet from the nearest residence; and Desert Sportsman is 3,286 feet from existing houses and 3,016 feet from new residential construction.

“And yes, they were there first,” says Warden of the 51-year-old range, “but if what you do is confined to your land and doesn’t affect the land nearby, that’s one thing. But the range bounces the sound north. There is no inherent structure to block the sound.”

Fortunately for Anderson and the range, the recession has slowed down the pace of development—a bright side of economic downturn if you’re a member of Desert Sportsman.

“There probably would’ve been more of an issue on this had it not been for the slowdown. We might be building homes in there today,” Warden says. “But there’s a pull-back in scheduling. Still, in a few years we’ll be building there.”

The commission voted early this month to renew Desert Sportsman’s use permit for another five years, rather than its routine 10 years, leaving Anderson with a foreboding feeling.

“[Summerlin representatives] have a tremendous amount of power,” Anderson says. If the permit is not renewed in five years, he says, “We’ll go out the gate with near nothing, basically.” The nature of the use agreement does not permit the gun club to sell the property; rather, they would just have to leave. Warden says he can see the land there making an excellent parking lot for a park-n-ride to the Red Rock scenic loop someday.

“We’re trying to be good neighbors, and I know they are, too,” says Warden. “Half of the households in Nevada are gun-owning. It’s part of the Western culture. Shooting is a family activity to some. So here we are with old and new Las Vegas. It’s one of those situations, you feel bad, but it’s the nature of how things are.”

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