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BEN AVERY SHOOTING RANGE MEETING REPORT

AZ Game & Fish Commission Seeks to Quiet Public Concerns Over Future of Ben Avery Shooting Facility

Monthly Meeting Filled with Anxious Citizens, Cautious Commissioners, Obvious Warning

From Angel Shamaya
Founder/Executive Director
http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com

Director@KeepAndBearArms.com

August 11, 2002

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA -- About a hundred people filled a too-small room in the Radisson Hotel in Flagstaff Friday morning (9AM) to attend the monthly Commissioners' meeting of the Arizona Game & Fish (AZGF) Department. That's a large turnout considering how remote Flagstaff is from the large population centers in Phoenix and Tucson. It's 2 hours to get to Flagstaff from North Phoenix, nearly 3 hours from the East Valley, and over 4 hours from Tucson -- but people made those drives to be at this meeting, and sat through over three hours of chatter before driving back home.

Several agenda items were discussed -- a 4 million acre land grab among them -- but the larger percentage of the crowd was there to do one thing: protect the 1650-acre Ben Avery Shooting Facility on I-17 at Carefree Highway.

ABOUT BEN AVERY SHOOTING FACILITY

BASF is the nicest shooting site of its kind in the entire Southwest (some say nation) and home to numerous gun clubs and national training events -- some of the best shooters in the world shoot at Ben Avery. Range caretakers just finished renovating another range for law enforcement training. Thousands of gunowners train on the property in any given month -- many thousands. Citizens come from all over the greater Phoenix area -- home to millions of people, the wiser ones being gunowners -- and they come from much further. I've personally driven an hour and a half from Flagstaff just to compete, and to increase my skills, and I was there with some frequency when I lived closer. At least hundreds of thousands of people have learned to shoot at the facility over its 40+ years -- and a lot more will learn to shoot there this month and year and for years to come.

Read much more about Ben Avery Shooting Facility here: http://www.flagstaffoutdoors.net/BASF/History.html

WHY SO MUCH PUBLIC INTEREST?

FACT: At the June 21-22 AZGF meeting, the commissioners discussed the possibility of closing Ben Avery shooting range by selling it off. The following text is taken from their minutes of that meeting: http://www.flagstaffoutdoors.net/BASF/BASF.html

"The Department may look at opportunities to replace Ben Avery at an equally usable site. A new range would be constructed before Ben Avery was vacated." (Page 9)

"The Del Webb Corporation has agreed to provide $500,000 in matching funds to help move the project." (also Page 9)

"In the next 5-10 years the Ben Avery property could be worth $100,000 an acre. There were about 1400 acres available." (Page 10)

FACT: Many shooters, gunowners and gun rights activists got ahold of the minutes from that June meeting and began calling and emailing Game & Fish -- to make it clear that they'd best find other ways to create revenue. At least one call to Game & Fish headquarters to challenge their idea of selling any part of the facility produced the following statement from the woman manning the phones: "There's nothing to be concerned about; those minutes weren't approved." (I heard her say it; I made that call.) Lack of approval of minutes doesn't negate what was discussed. Duck-and-cover tactics like that don't exactly engender public trust -- in fact, they accomplish just the opposite.

FACT: The AZGF responded to public pressure with a press release dated August 7, which they faxed to any concerned citizen who'd give the Department a fax number. With citizens exhibiting hostility about the notion of closing Ben Avery, the press release said "we have no offers and we are not considering selling the Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Period."

Many people were angry that the Department would even consider closing a site many call "a National Treasure." More than a few were incensed that AZGF pretended -- in an official press release and by telephone -- that they weren't talking about closing the range when they were.

Gun rights activists sent out email alerts across the state. Firearms Action Committee of Tucson, Brassroots and KeepAndBearArms.com put people on notice. Shooting and gun clubs activated their email lists. Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association alerted their cadre of shooters and activists. The National Rifle Association even fired up their auto-dialers in Virginia and placed a few thousand calls to gun owners in the area -- a result of pressure from Director Todd Rathner and likely from the ASRPA team, as well. (Yes, that is a pat on the back -- a well-deserved one.)

People showed up.

And the first thing they saw were makeshift signs telling everyone they had to leave their expensive handguns in their cars.

WHAT WERE AZGF LEADERS AFRAID OF?

Game & Fish leadership, having felt the heat of concerned citizens for over a week, must've felt threatened and afraid -- they posted temporary citizen disarmament "signs" at the two entrances to the Radisson hotel and on both doors to the meeting room. (Scotch taping your rights away.) Printed on 8-1/2 X 11 pastel blue paper out of somebody's ink jet printer, the "signs" read, in all capital letters:

FIREARMS AND DEADLY
WEAPONS PROHIBITED
EXCEPT BY PEACE
OFFICERS ON OFFICIAL
DUTY.
A.R.S. 13-3102(A)(10)

Above the wording was the Arizona Game & Fish logo. Pictures of the "signs" can be viewed here:

Front Door Close-up of "Sign":
http://keepandbeararms.com/images/AZGFD_BAvery_FrontDoor.gif

Front Doors -- Both "Signs" from Further Back:
http://keepandbeararms.com/images/AZGFD_BAvery_FrontDoorBoth.gif

Inside Doors Both Had the Same "Signs":
http://keepandbeararms.com/images/AZGFD_BAvery_InsideDoors.gif

And there were at least four armed "guards" present at the meeting. Two of the "guards" were Game & Fish officers. At least one uniformed Flagstaff officer was present. And there was at least one plainclothes public servant present, with extra magazines and handcuffs on his belt. ("For the children," of course.) I noticed at one point that they were strategically located in such "tactical" positions that they could've all been taken out in two seconds by an average shooter, which would've left the entire crowd defenseless -- but we were all there to be peaceful, in spite of the fact that closing our shooting range had been discussed at the last meeting.

A.R.S. 13-3102(A)(10) can be found here:
http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ars/13/03102.htm

THE MEETING

The shooting range segment of the meeting -- agenda item number 4, to be specific -- started about half an hour into the meeting. It wrapped up around noon or a little thereafter.

Shortly after the shooting range portion of the meeting took place, Commission Chairman Michael Golightly announced that headway had been made toward the development of a Bellemont shooting facility. After years of not getting a shooting range up in Northern Arizona, the timing of their "announcement" was auspicious. I won't say anything about the fact that much larger populations of shooters are short on shooting facilities -- and I'll ignore the fact that Chairman Golightly lives in Bellemont.

One woman from Bellemont addressed the Commission over concerns that her "large neighborhood" hadn't been told about the plans for a shooting range in their back yard. "If her complaint is accurate," I thought to myself, "why should we trust these guys to manage any shooting ranges at all -- let alone manage the best one we've got? It doesn't take much time to notify a neighborhood that you're looking at putting a shooting range in an area where their kids play. All that takes is flyers in mailboxes -- and judging from the flyers on the front door prohibiting us from exercising our rights, I'd say somebody at Game & Fish knows how to make flyers on short notice."

THE SPEAKERS AND THEIR MESSAGE

The people who went to the podium numbered around 20 or 25, but there were many more people there in support of the range who remained silent but listened closely -- more than a few people took notes. Among those who spoke were: Angel Shamaya of KeepAndBearArms.com (me); Darren LaSorte of the National Rifle Association, who flew all the way from Virginia to attend and speak; Terry Allison of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, who received a round of applause and deserves some kind of medal for all the work he's done at Ben Avery; a retired police chief who's been shooting and holding training events at Ben Avery for 32 years; a newspaper reporter who covers New River and the surrounding areas and was clearly in support of the range; Phoenix city councilman Dave Siebert, who is keeping his campaign promise to defend the range and is very serious about doing so; Sydney Hay, who is running for office in Arizona's new congressional district and supports keeping Ben Avery intact, fully operational and protected; a member of the Air Force (missed his rank) who's traveled to many countries and has never seen a shooting range as nice as Ben Avery; and many more people who each deserve appreciation and praise for showing up and speaking out but whose names (and organizations) I unfortunately missed.

JUSTIFICATIONS, EXPLANATIONS AND APOLOGIES

The commissioners, as overseers of shooting ranges in the state, explained that it's their job to explore all options to both take care of Ben Avery AND build new ranges. Their message Friday morning consisted of explanations for having to raise money while also having to deal with the Phoenix megalopolis getting closer to Ben Avery's turf with each passing month. Each commissioner expressed hearty appreciation of the Ben Avery facility. But the absence of a clear motion to table and thwart any present or future discussion of selling or leasing Ben Avery to anyone but absolute shooting allies was noticeable. A motion to stand firm against ever closing the facility was also sorely missing.

"We began the process of looking at shooting range needs statewide. The committee that is looking at the Ben Avery shooting range is a committee with a wide range of interests," said Commission Chair Michael Golightly. "I believe that their final decision throughout this process will be in the best interest of shooting ranges statewide. *BUT* at the same time, we also are looking for revenue streams that will help us build those facilities, that will help us acquire properties across the state."

GO LIGHTLY?

Chairman Michael Golightly still attempted to deny that discussion of closing the range took place -- to his own embarrassment. For example, after Darren LaSorte of NRA spoke, professionally covering numerous important reasons to protect the entire piece of property where Ben Avery is located, Mr. Golightly said, and I am quoting directly from the tape recording I made of the event: "You know, you use terms like 'save Ben Avery' and terms like, when you talk about 'condemning' Ben Avery, and, you know, I don't know where you get that. But I don't think that's a good product that you promote to the public. Those things haven't been talked about, and I resent it."

Mr. LaSorte let it go with an apology even though he was merely addressing what the commission discussed in their previous meeting. Chairman Golightly later came back and apologized "if I've offended you, or anyone in the room" -- because he had, and he knew it. After all, we read the minutes of the last meeting -- we knew that vacating the Ben Avery property was discussed, and we knew they'd discussed the value of the land, and we knew Del Webb had offered half a million dollars "to help move the project."

Del Webb, in case you aren't aware of it, isn't a shooting range funding machine; it's a land development machine -- a wealthy one, with something in mind that doesn't have a damn thing to do with supporting the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

MY TURN

When my turn came to speak, Mr. LaSorte and others had covered the majority of issues I'd planned to cover, so I focused solely on the inaccuracy of the AZGF press release. I stated that I'd read the minutes of their last meeting and compared it to their press release and found the inaccuracy between the two to be disrespectful of a trusting public. I praised the Game & Fish Department's history in the state -- but objected to their pretense that they haven't been discussing selling the land and closing our beloved Ben Avery Shooting Facility.

Mr. Golightly challenged me, again implying that they hadn't discussed closing the range in their last meeting -- and asked me where in their minutes it was discussed. Not thinking the Chairman of the Commission of the Arizona Game & Fish Department would evade the obvious in front of a roomful of people who were there because of what happened in their last meeting, I didn't have the minutes in front of me. Bill Gow of Flagstaff handed me his highlighted copy, and I read the excerpts that clearly showed a Ben Avery CLOSURE in their conversations. Mr. Golightly STILL attempted to insinuate that sale/closure of the property wasn't what was meant by those discussions, so I sought permission to ask a question. He said to go ahead, and here is the question I asked: "Are you saying that you did not discuss the closure of Ben Avery?" He didn't give me a satisfactory answer to my question -- certainly not a Yes or No -- and I walked away from the podium knowing that we'll be dealing with this issue again, eventually.

OTHER SPEAKERS

Terry Allison is the President of the Arizona State Rifle & Pistol Association -- NRA's state affiliate. But he's more than that, especially when it comes to shooting sports and especially to Ben Avery Shooting Range. His speech was perfect -- so much so that the room burst out in applause when he was finished. Everything that came out of his mouth poured through from a rich, deep experience of the value of the Ben Avery facility. Anyone who has been involved in any way with that range and its development knows how hard Terry has worked to make it better -- up close and personal work, on site, all the time. We stand with you on this one, Terry -- big time! http://www.asrpa.com

Phoenix city councilman Dave Siebert said the city is being sued over noise relating to the police shooting range at South Mountain. The Phoenix PD would like to build a $34 Million shooting facility, but the city doesn't have that much extra dough. Councilman Siebert suggested the possibility of bringing the police range onto or north of the Ben Avery facility -- to further protect it for the future. Any gunowners in his district are urged to at least send him a quick email of appreciation. http://phoenix.gov/CITYGOV/electidx.html

Sydney Hay, a candidate from Prescott running for Congress, spoke of the troubles they'd had there after letting people build homes close to their range. She reported that someone who'd signed a waiver showing understanding that a shooting range was nearby later built a home and then sued to close the range. The range WAS closed, for quite a long time. In fact, she said they wondered whether or not they'd ever get the range open again. She seems like a sharp lady who truly understands gun rights issues. She was handing out expensive postcards specifically touting her stance as a Second Amendment advocate -- but she was there to protect the range. http://www.sydneyhay.org

The consensus among ALL citizens who addressed Friday's AZGF meeting was that selling or leasing the range to the detriment of full operation of the facility is not an option, should not be an option, and if it again becomes an option there will be some seriously upset gunowners to deal with.

"Ben Avery is a national treasure that must be protected at all costs," proclaimed more one concerned citizen. Several people who addressed the Game & Fish decisionmakers echoed similarly strong statements. Of the 25 or so people who signed up to address the audience, not a single one of them supported selling or leasing the shooting range's land if doing so could jeopardize the future full use of the range.

One woman suggested that Game & Fish sell their headquarters and move onto the Ben Avery land to be the "sound buffer" they keep talking about -- everybody laughed. A man suggested getting police shooting ranges further established on the property -- to further fortify against the sure-to-come moves to close the range. A mother said she planned to see her young children training at Ben Avery as soon as they are old enough. A few people said they'd been using the facility for lengthy time periods dating as far back as its inception.

NOBODY expressed support for selling the range after building a "replacement" for it -- a topic of discussion at the June Game & Fish meeting. How AZGF thinks you can replace a national historical landmark that is a training center home to tens of thousands (at least!) of shooters is beyond this citizen. We don't need to replace it, Mr. Golightly and Commissioners; we need to get it declared as a national historical site to be preserved for the next ten centuries -- but without all of the strings that come with such designations.

MY OPINION OF THIS SITUATION

The battle is over, but the war hasn't even begun. This situation was an early warning -- a mere drop of rain on the windshield.

The Commission -- while certainly supportive of shooters, and quite aware where Arizona gunowners stand -- doesn't appear to be run with complete integrity. Their issue-evading press release showed it, as did their pretense at the meeting that selling Ben Avery's land and closing the facility wasn't discussed. When a government organization resorts to various type of backpeddlings and plausible deniabilities, they should be watched closely. Full public disclosure on issues relating to Ben Avery Shooting Facility and AZGF's involvement is now absolutely mandatory -- as is a commitment from the Department that shooting, hunting, gun rights and other interested parties are well-informed long before any decision about the range's future comes even close to being made.

It is also my personal opinion that at least two commissioners and some members of the shooting community have a defeatist attitude toward the future of Ben Avery Shooting Range. A couple of comments came forth suggesting that Ben Avery cannot stay open forever. "It's eventually going to have to be moved" attitudes exist on the Commission -- and in the shooting community -- and they point to a willingness to "get ready for it now, so we're ready when we have to move." That attitude shows a lack of complete commitment to circling the wagons if need be. And, eventually, a circling of the wagons will be required if Ben Avery is to survive urban sprawl, anti-gun fanatics, money-hungry governmental agencies, profit-driven land developers and anyone else who'd like to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

That "we'll lose eventually" attitude is a failing strategy -- a belief that should be rendered non-existent. There are One Thousand, Six Hundred and Fifty acres around Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Any city, county, state or federal governmental agency that attempts to exert force to close it down can go to hell. That land was and is the vision of Mr. Ben Avery, it was intended to be used as it is being used, and that is the end of the conversation.

Arizona Game & Fish has lots of responsibilities. Game management, land management, dealing with various bureaucracies, etc. Shooting ranges are but one component of their function in the state. They are also underfunded -- a complaint of every other government agency since government was invented, of course -- and are naturally inclined to seek more money. We must understand the fact that they need cash. And given that it's their job to discuss all possible options of seeking cash, we can even strive to understand that a conversation came up about how to turn some of Ben Avery's land into money to help get other shooting ranges around the state built and maintained.

But selling Ben Avery's land is not an option to consider any further if it could in any way whatsoever jeopardize any current or future use of the land as the fine training center it is. Even leasing a tract of the land to anyone other than someone who is contractually bound to support and appreciate Ben Avery Shooting Facility for what it is is unacceptable.

If the Department ever tries to further their discussions of closing Ben Avery down and moving it to another location -- I'd bet that will happen, whether we hear about it or not ("Executive Session") -- that meeting will require a much larger room. And if such a meeting intended to mandate that Ben Avery Shooting Facility was closing, I suspect a few more than four little guards would be needed.

Angel Shamaya


People Who Stood Up at the Meeting:

(There were others -- many good folks -- but I don't have their names and email addresses. If you do, please forward this message to them and thank them on my behalf and on behalf of the thousands of armed citizens who are happy with the Ben Avery Shooting Facility right where it is.)

Angel Shamaya
KeepAndBearArms.com
Director@KeepAndBearArms.com

Dave Siebert
Phoenix City Councilman, District 1
cdist1@phoenix.gov

Terry Allison
Arizona State Rifle & Pistol Association
forgun@aol.com

Darren LaSorte
National Rifle Association
dlasorte@nrahq.org

Sydney Hay
Running for Congress in AZ District
Sydney@SydneyHay.org

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 QUOTES TO REMEMBER
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Senator Barry Goldwater, 1964 (1909-1998)

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