By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
Staff Sgt. Queston Newell of Fort Hood's Warrior Transition Brigade was surprised to learn there is no public shooting range in the Killeen area upon moving here in 2001.
There was a range close to Newell's home in his native Lubbock, he said, and driving 40 minutes to shoot at the closest area range is "kind of an inconvenience."
Killeen resident Monty Miller also drive dozens of miles to practice at ranges in surrounding towns. Although the retired soldier works at Fort Hood's Mission Command Training Center and is authorized to use the on-post Sportsmen's Center range, it's a hassle having to register his weapon with the Provost Marshal's Office and declare it each time he enters the gate.
Public ranges exist in Florence, Gatesville, Temple and beyond, but not in Killeen, Harker Heights, Nolanville or Belton. There is just one small range attached to a gun shop in Copperas Cove, in addition to the range at Fort Hood. Police practice at private facilities.
"I would be really supportive of a range in Killeen," Miller said - so supportive that he started the Facebook firearm education page Monty on Guns. "If I were smarter on the business end of running things, I would open a range. I really think it would make money (here) if someone were to go into it."
Greg Ebert, a retired police officer who works part-time at a Killeen gun shop, might have the know-how to open a range, but not the cash.
He's looked into opening an indoor, 20-stall range, he said, and between acreage and building expenses, the project would cost $5.5 million.
Operating costs are also high. Ranges, especially indoor ranges, require constant upkeep, expensive air quality controls and insurance policies and, often, videocameras and other security measures.
Indoor ranges can operate day or night in any weather, however, and can offer automated target retreival, which is safer and wastes less shooting time. They can also require less acreage, but are more suitable for smaller weapons.
Red Hyman, owner of Red's Indoor Range, with one location each in Austin and Pflugerville, said he spent $1.5 million to open his 20-stall Pflugerville range 15 years ago.
Today, he estimated, it would cost twice as much.
Although Fort Hood soldiers and area residents who use his ranges ask him all the time to open a range here, he said he wouldn't "because of the troops. One day, you've got a couple hundred thousand guys, and then you've got 10,000 there. It all has to do with population. If you do not have population to sustain a steady income for one of these hungry things, you will not last."
He guessed it would take a population of 500,000 to support a range.
Although Killeen and Fort Hood's population is less than half that, Miller disagreed. He believes there's enough interest in Killeen and its metropolitan areas to keep a local range in business. The city doesn't clear out during deployments the way it did during the Gulf War, he said.
Ebert said an outdoor range would cost less than $5.5 million, but start-up costs would be substantial nevertheless.
But in a town like Killeen, he said, he's also confident the project would turn a profit.
"If someone had the start-up capital, it's something that is desperately needed in this area. A lot of people enjoy shooting sports."
Others, including women, are interested in self-protection and concealed carry courses, he said.
Killeen resident Kim Morris wants to own a handgun to protect herself and her son when her husband, a civilian gate guard at Fort Hood, isn't home, she said. But she doesn't feel comfortable owning one without knowing just how to use it.
Driving dozens of miles on a regular basis to practice simply isn't practical, however, she said. For now, she's sticking to her BB gun.
Costs aren't the only barrier to opening a shooting range in Killeen.
A city "amusements" ordinance prohibits operation of a "shooting gallery" within city limits without a license from the chief of police.
Killeen's Assistant Chief of Police Larry Longwell said he's never been asked to approve a license for a range, but guessed that finding enough land to build a range, coupled with the obligations of running it to Environmental Protection Agency and other standards, could be extremely difficult.
Killeen's Code of Ordinances also limits the kinds of targets, walls and firearms a gallery can have, in addition to when it can operate.
While there's no specific prohibition of shooting galleries in Harker Heights' Code of Ordinances, City Planner Jim Schultz said no one's ever attempted to open a range during his year on the job. Police Lt. Loretta Fox said she'd heard of someone who once tried to open an indoor range in Harker Heights, but it was never built. She didn't know why.
Both Miller and Ebert said they'd heard of a handful of people who wanted to open ranges within city limits over the years, but never did.
Wesley Wright, Copperas Cove city engineer, said that while shooting ranges aren't necessarily permitted within city limits, they aren't prohibited, either.
Just Glocks gun shop in Copperas Cove contains the immediate area's only civilian, public shooting range. The outdoor range is small and serves mainly as a demonstration area for gun sales, owner Edward Isenberg said.
He guessed past range-opening efforts have failed due to costs and noise concerns.
Although he's done tests that prove gunfire isn't as loud as traffic, he said, neighbors don't want to hear gunfire in their backyards.
"When somebody hears a shot, they automatically think a crime is being committed," he said.
Stan Buchhorn, co-owner of outdoor Stan's Range in Florence, said the same. His more rural location is ideal for a range, he said, and is always full of customers from Killeen.
Alice Tripp, the Austin-based legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, said noise ordinance violations can be a barrier to opening a gun range within city limits.
Still, she said, it can be done, particularly on land that isn't suitable for much else.
One of the state's biggest indoor ranges, American Shooting Centers in Houston, sits within city limits on a flood plain, she said.
Association executive director Steve Hall said that when run cleanly and properly, gun ranges can be "very lucrative." Ranges can charge for gun rentals and ammunition, as well as hourly or daily shooting fees. They can also offer shooting classes.
Three in 10 Americans personally own a gun, according to a 2005 Gallup poll. Southerners and Midwesterners are more likely than Easterners or Westerners to own firearms.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.