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Public gun range plans in Hernando hit a wall

Commissioners also agree to declare Hernando County a Second Amendment sanctuary.
Commissioner Steve Champion [ALICE HERNDEN  |  Special to the Times]
Commissioner Steve Champion [ALICE HERNDEN | Special to the Times]
Published Nov. 20

BROOKSVILLE — A hope to snag some federal funding to build a gun range on public land in Hernando County was dashed this week when county commissioners learned of the hoops they would be jumping through.

On a related topic, they decided to move forward in declaring Hernando County a Second Amendment sanctuary, with a formal vote on a resolution at a future meeting at the urging of Commissioner Steve Champion, who is also the owner of American Gun and Pawn in Brooksville.

The gun range idea first came up in June when Champion brought it forward after learning about federal funding available.

He and other commissioners wanted to pitch a long-range shooting area as a new adventure for their Adventure Coast tourism campaign. The Withlacoochee State Forest might serve as the perfect spot, they figured.

Champion had noted Hernando County has no public gun ranges, where enthusiasts can shoot their guns and experts can provide hunter education. The federal program provides 90 percent funding for such facilities, from money collected from excise taxes from the sale of firearms and ammunition.

Champion said he had hoped to build an indoor range on property that he owns, but the $2 million investment was out of reach.

Funding would come through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. But on Tuesday, their county’s economic development director, Valerie Pianta, said further research indicated a number of conditions would have to be met.

Any range built with the money would be overseen through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The site chosen would need to go through a lengthy approval process. And it would have to be located in an undeveloped, high and dry area with a three-mile backstop.

Any area considered for the funding would need to have 150,000 known gun owners within a 30-mile radius, which would include parts of Citrus and Pasco counties, Pianta said.

Proximity to other shooting ranges would be considered, and Pianta said that the Fish and Wildife official she had been talking to raised the issue of the Hernando Sportsmans Club as an available local alternative. She also noted the same official had been working to get a similar range in the Palm Beach area for years, and the process was not yet complete.

Champion said he thought that partnering with the Sportsmans Club might have been an option.

But no commissioner pushed to do anything else with the gun range idea.

Champion did push for the Second Amendment sanctuary county designation, a move other counties have taken around the state and the country to demonstrate their opposition to any effort at gun control regulations. While he said he knew it would have little impact, since counties have no say in any rules regarding guns, "it’s more of a commitment to the citizens to not do anything ... to erode the Second Amendment.''

On a national level, he said, gun rights are under attack and he said he has seen “scary” proposals to curtail them.

Hernando Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb said that, while the designation might be “ceremonial” it would send a strong message. "Look at the whole Democratic party,'' he said. "This is the party that wants to take your guns.''

Commissioner John Mitten said he had some concern with the word “sanctuary” because he was not sure what it meant, but he didn’t stand in the way of moving forward with a resolution.

That resolution will come back to the commission for a formal vote at an upcoming meeting.

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