The Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club (KRRC) has been a landmark along Seabeck Highway in Kitsap County, Wash., since 1926. Its website url is gunsafety.org, reflective of a long record of safe activity. It isn’t an activist organization, just a family-friendly community shooting range serving the public.
On September 8, 2010, Kitsap County prosecutor Russ Hauge, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit against KRRC, alleging that it is a public nuisance which violates city and county ordinances. The complaint asserts that KRRC illegally allows large caliber and automatic weapons fire, uses explosives as targets, allows firing late into the evening (10 p.m.), and bulldozed wetlands to build more firing lanes. Hauge asked the court for an injunction to shut the gun range down until the club completes a safety evaluation and submits it for court review.
KRRC Executive Officer Marcus Carter says the lawsuit is groundless. Many believe it is motivated by a personal vendetta against him. His range is exempt from newer regulations, having been “grandfathered in” as an exception to zoning laws by the County in 1993. KRRC has obtained permits necessary for construction of several improvements and has tested nearby water sources for contamination. Neighbors complaining about noise moved into the area knowing a gun club was located nearby. There hasn’t been a single occurrence of a stray bullet injuring a neighbor.
Prosecutors admit that the final straw leading them to file the lawsuit against KRRC and Carter’s wife last month was a complaint from a man with powerful connections who had bought a home near the range. Gary Koon, who represents Central Kitsap Citizens 4 Safe and Quiet Neighborhoods, is a former Marine infantry officer employed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor base as a civilian deputy operations officer for the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion. Notably, CK Citizens 4 Safe and Quiet Neighborhoods does not have a website and appears to have been formed specifically by a few neighbors intent on shutting the club down due to noise.
Hauge has attempted to prosecute Carter before, with no success. In 1999, he filed felony charges against him for modifying a Colt AR-15 rifle into a fully automatic weapon. Two off-duty investigators from the prosecutor’s office, who were taking a safety course from Carter, observed a modified rifle in Carter’s classroom and seized it. Hauge tried to prosecute Carter for having that weapon three times over the next 11 years. Despite the fact that Carter had no attorney (he went up against the government defending himself), all three times judges threw out the charges. Kitsap County Superior Court judge Anna M. Laurie ruled in 2009 that as a federally licensed firearms dealer and gunsmith, the exception in the statute clearly applied to Carter. Yet Hauge has now appealed this decision, asserting that Carter should only be permitted to repair automatic weapons for law enforcement agencies, not actually own them himself.
The gun club has exhausted its resources trying to defend itself against Hauge, and has set up a legal defense fund. Meanwhile, Hauge continues to use taxpayers’ money to try and shut the club down – despite severe budget problems within the County. The Kitsap County Commissioners are backing Hauge, no doubt due to a cozy relationship. Hauge has been Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney from 1995 to the present.
Bruce Danielson, an Independent and member of the gun club, is running for County Prosecutor against Hauge. Danielson points to the timing of the lawsuit – two months before the election – as evidence it was politically motivated.
The Kitsap Law Blog, operated by a local attorney, openly speculates that it is malice from Hauge driving the lawsuit. The blog observes that this isn’t the first time Hauge has brought a dubious lawsuit against someone where it was urged by a powerful member of the community.
Carter wonders why Hauge and the county haven’t been willing to try and work with him and the club to resolve the issues amicably through administrative procedures. KRRC has issued an invitation for a site visit and requested an opportunity to sit down and discuss the issues. He has been willing to work with prosecutors and make accommodations. Carter recently filed a complaint with the Washington State Bar Association over Hauge’s far-reaching accusations that Carter was manufacturing machine guns and selling them.
The public has rallied around the beloved shooting range, flooding the local newspapers with letters to the editor vouching for its safety practices, and showing up at County Commissioner meetings with signs. One angry letter writer characterized the dispute this way “The county prosecutor files a harassing lawsuit against the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, an organization which has been in existence for 84 years — a lawsuit based on hypothetical scenarios and ‘sky is falling’ scare tactics presented by disgruntled neighbors.” The Kitsap County Republican Club passed a resolution that “condemns the actions of Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge and his office for the continual harassment and frivolous legal attacks upon the officers and members of the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club.” A website called Save Our Range has been put up, containing declarations from various gun owners objecting to the lawsuit and the club’s response to the lawsuit. A Facebook page is updated regularly with news about the lawsuit.
So far, no larger gun rights organizations or individual liberty law firms have stepped up to assist the gun club; however, they may not need to. Kitsap County has a population of around 240,000. This story is big news in a small county; Hauge’s vendetta against Carter, which appears to be bleeding over to the gun club, has been extensively covered by the local newspapers. Voters are tired of government overspending this year. They may end up voting Hauge out of office this November.