December 2, 2020

Heard BOC Calls for Ceasefire at Local Shooting Range

(Franklin, GA) — The August meeting of the Heard County Board of Commissioners took place Tuesday night and the first order of new business was a discussion about the concerns of some local citizens regarding the Advantage Tactical shooting range on Franklin Parkway.

Talmadge Phillips addressing the board Tuesday night

Talmadge Phillips addressing the board Tuesday night

Chairman Lee Boone added the discussion to the agenda primarily because of recent complaints from several property owners residing near the range.

At the forefront of the discussion was a recent incident at the home of Talmadge Phillips where two Heard County deputies observed gunfire towards the residence on August 16, 2015.

Present at the meeting along with Chairman Boone were district commissioners Larry Hooks, Keri Denney, Gwen Caldwell, Larry Hammond, and Joe Adams as well as county attorney Jerry Ann Connor and county clerk Patty Jiles.

Prior to the discussion by the board, Chairman Boone read a statement giving a brief synopsis of the events over the last three years involving the range, zoning, ordinances, and licenses:

“Advantage Tactical was issued a business license on August 31, 2012. I took office on January 01, 2013. In April 2013, an ad in the local paper advertised an event that included the gun range at Advantage Tactical. I was questioned about the range at a Commission meeting and had no knowledge about the existence and/or location. A couple of days later, Commissioner Larry Hooks and I drove to the location and met Mr. Peterson for the first time. He showed us the range and explained what types of classes they were going to offer. The zoning ordinances were reviewed and confirmed the lack of an ordinance regulating gun ranges. It was also determined that the proper procedure was not followed before the business license was issued. Mr. Peterson was advised to suspend any events involving firearms, until an ordinance was drafted and approved, and he would have go through the proper zoning procedure. Notices were mailed to adjacent property owners, and a final public hearing was held at a regular Commissioner’s meeting. No individual spoke at the hearing that was not in favor of the range being approved to continue operating at its current location. Several months later the Wounded Warrior Foundation held a charity event at the range, and a special custom designed “Monster Parade Truck” was going to be there. I was notified and invited as Chairman to attend on a Saturday. I am a supporter of the Foundation and wanted to see the truck in person, so I went over to the range. I was asked to be in a group picture by the man representing the Foundation, and he wanted everybody in the picture to hold their weapons. I did not bring a weapon and was loaned an unloaded AR-15 to hold for the group picture. I bought a t-shirt from the Foundation representative with the Wounded Warrior Logo on it, and left the range after a 30 minute visit. The picture was subsequently posted on the Advantage Tactical Website sometime afterwards. Apparently after the picture was posted, I later learned from personal sources that I allegedly became an investor, a member and regular participant in activities and events. For the record, I would like to disclose that I have no financial interest in the company, nor am I a member, and I have never fired a shot at that range. I was notified on the morning of August 17, 2015 that two Heard County Deputies responded to a complaint call from the residence of Talmadge Phillips on August 16, 2015 at approximately 2:13 pm. (see incident report). I called Mr. Peterson and advised him of the incident and he agreed to meet myself and Commissioner Larry Hammond at the range. That visit to the range was my third since it has opened. Mr. Peterson agreed to suspend any activities and/or events with regard to the discharge of any firearms, until this matter was investigated and brought to the attention and meeting of the Board of Commissioners on August 25, 2015, to determine the appropriate course of action that needs to be taken.” – Chairman Lee Boone

About 50-60 people were in the audience for the meeting, and Chairman Boone outlined the rules of order for the discussion agreeing to allow any citizens present the opportunity to speak and make their points about the range.

The first person to speak was Mr. Talmadge Phillips, neighboring property owner of the range. Phillips explained to the board his version of the details surrounding the bullet holes he found in his roof earlier this year as well as the more recent incident involving the two deputies on August 16.

The Heard County Board of Commissioners (L-R): Chairman Lee Boone, Larry Hooks, Keri Denney, Gwen Caldwell, Larry Hammond, Joe Adams

The Heard County Board of Commissioners (L-R): Chairman Lee Boone, Larry Hooks, Keri Denney, Gwen Caldwell, Larry Hammond, Joe Adams

Phillips asked the board to consider the problems he and his neighbors have been experiencing and take action.

“I would like very much for something to be done about it and if bullets were being thrown towards your residence and your home and your family you would want something done about it,” said Phillips. “And that is what I am here for tonight — to ask you (the board of commissioners) to consider my situation before somebody gets hurt real bad or killed — especially me. I don’t want to get shot and especially from something (the range) that is unattended and without a safety director.”

Another resident of the area took to the podium next stating that he loves firearms but is not comfortable with the current range.

“I have been handling firearms for about 60 years and shooting them for about 60 years,” said Robert Krach. “I am a life member of a gun club up in Pennsylvania in one of the most populous suburbs of Philadelphia you can find — that range is set up and run the way a range should be — and there are houses as close or closer than this situation. There is no reason for that berm (at this local range) to be located in such a position to be parallel to private houses.”

Greg Holcomb, a long-time nearby resident and veteran in law enforcement addressed the board about the changes he feels have taken place since the shooting range’s inception in late 2012 and early 2013.

“I personally think they came in as a pistol range and nobody said anything about it so they are taking advantage of Heard County — and taking advantage of us — just trying to put in whatever they want to because they are sitting in Atlanta or Peachtree City or whatever and could care less,” said Holcomb. “We don’t pull up in a Mercedes, we pull up in our trucks and we love our town and we love our community — I am strictly opposed to it.”

Other neighboring residents including Daniel Headley, Donna Waugh, Handley Hughey, and Wanda Rich addressed the board in opposition to the range, citing noise factors, concern for the safety of their children and animals, and the inability to enjoy their homes peacefully.

One resident spoke in support for having the range, but suggested that improvements are needed. Vernon Judy stated, “I’m for guns — we need a place to shoot — but safety is number one. I have been out there at the range — I went for a three gun shoot just to see what was going on and I grant you that sometimes there’s people out there that shouldn’t have a gun. I hate to see that place go away but I grant you there are some improvements that need to be made.”

Sgt. Dan Boswell, investigator and firing rangemaster with the Heard County Sheriff’s Office next gave his opinion to the board about problems at the range.

Boswell referenced some of the videos posted from the Franklin shooting range by The AR Bunker out of Newnan, another organization that has recently been subleasing the range from Advantage Tactical. Boswell was especially critical about the use of high-powered automatic weapons at the facility.

“When you go out there and start spraying and praying you don’t know where those rounds go. In this case (the videos), you can see them shooting at these bunkers and you can see the rounds hitting the bunkers — but when that weapon is still firing and you don’t see the dust flying up on those bunkers those rounds are going somewhere — they are going up over the top of them.”

Boswell stated that the Sheriff’s Office has already voiced safety to concerns to range management in the past.

“There has been a lot of stuff that we have looked at — we have had meetings with Mr. Peterson and we’ve talked with him about certain things that needed to be done to make sure that this was a safe place and that it met a standard — basically he hasn’t met that standard, period — and until such time as he meets that standard he should not have the ability to operate that range.”

Heard County Sheriff Ross Henry

Heard County Sheriff Ross Henry

Heard County Sheriff Ross Henry next addressed the board citing his concerns for the community as a whole.

“Shooting ranges are kind of like sewage plants — there is a big need for them — but no one wants them in their backyard. This is all about location; this is not about guns — this is about safety,” Henry explained.

“These people I have known all my life. They can’t let their animals out of the house, they can’t sit on their back porch because of the noise, they’ve got rounds going through trees — none of us would want to deal with that — I am all for gun ranges but I don’t want one in my backyard and I don’t suspect anyone else wants one in their backyard either.”

Sheriff Henry told the board he was specifically very concerned about the public’s safety close to the range. “Somebody is going to get hurt if something is not done. I actually spoke to some people today that have been to that range and they said they went there about a year ago and they would never go back — they said there was no rangemaster there, it was kind of disorganized, and they didn’t feel safe.”

After the other citizens had spoken to the board, Phillips returned to the podium to address the commissioners once more.

“We as tax-paying citizens and residents being shot at — we are fed up to our eyeballs about it — and we are asking all six of you to please give us our peace of mind back so we can be at peace and enjoy our homes without being afraid somebody is going to put a bullet through us.”

Commissioner Caldwell then asked that the county attorney read the ordinance that the board had voted on in 2013 for the record. Conner read the following details from the approved ordinance as it related to outdoor ranges:

Shooting range, outdoor, must meet at a minimum, all the following requirements: 

a.  Shall be required to meet all applicable standards established by The NRA Range Source Book published by the NRA.

b.  Shall be required to meet all applicable standards established by Lead Management and OSHA Compliance for Outdoor Shooting Ranges published by the National Association of Shooting Ranges (NASR) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA’s Best Management Practices for Outdoor Shooting Ranges.

c.  Shall be required to have a NRA Range Technical Team Evaluation or an evaluation from a similar firing range technical review company approved by the Board of Commissioners and provide a copy of the final report from the range technical team advisor or similar company prior to the certificate of occupancy and business license being issued.

 d.  Liability insurance required. Each application for a license issued under this permit shall be accompanied by evidence that the applicant has obtained a general liability insurance policy in an amount not less than $1,000,000.00 per occurrence. Such insurance policy shall remain in force and effect during the term of the license. Such insurance policy shall contain a clause requiring the insurer to immediately notify the county if for any reason, coverage under the policy terminates. The proof of insurance required by this section shall be furnished to the county upon each renewal of the license. Additionally, the licensee shall furnish to the county proof of insurance when requested to do so. 

e.  Instructors required. The owner or operator of an outdoor shooting range shall have on the premises at all times during range operation a range safety officer, a certified range instructor by the National Rifle Association or a certified range instructor by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Council. 

f.  Shall provide an operating telephone available to range participants and spectators for the purpose of contacting emergency medical services. 

g.  Shall provide a first-aid kit containing the items recommended by a certified expert in emergency medical treatment shall be readily available at each shooting sports facility for emergency treatment or care of minor injuries. 

h.  A range safety manual shall be maintained that includes procedures for operations, maintenance, and lead management and recovery. The range safety manual shall be kept on-site and shall be accessible at all times to those using the shooting sports facility. 

i.  Prior to submitting for the conditional use permit, applicant shall advise as to the standard of noise reduction possible and to what decibel level the proposed operation will create. The noise emitted from the range shall not exceed sixty-five (65) decibels at any point twenty (20) feet from the nearest occupied residence, school, hotel, motel, hospital or church, or from the nearest proposed location of a residence, school, hotel, motel, hospital or church if the property is zoned for such use but is currently unimproved. The measurement shall be made in the location directly between the range and the nearest existing or proposed residence, school, hotel, motel, hospital or church. If there are natural of artificial obstructions that prevent an accurate noise measurement, the measurement may be taken within an additional twenty (20) feet radius from the initial measurement location. 

k.  A one hundred (100) foot natural vegetative buffer shall be required around the range area. 

Jim Peterson, operations manager and business partner to majority owner of Advantage Tactical Keith Tompkins then came before the board to defend the shooting range.

“There’s been several complaints voiced here tonight that have only come to my attention recently. We spoke last week to a Sheriff’s Deputy and he asked if I was aware of all these complaints; I had only been previously notified one time. I have seen the reports now, I know they have been filled out with the Sheriff’s Office, but they have never been delivered to me until just now.”

Peterson claimed that he and his associates are very concerned about safety on their range.

“Myself and my business partner Keith Tompkins — we are gravely concerned anytime there is a matter of public safety as far as our range goes. There hasn’t been one time that we have received a call or anything about this property that we haven’t immediately come out and tried to find out what was going on,” said Peterson. “On several occasions we have been called and it has been found that shots weren’t even coming from our range.”

Peterson stated that his biggest concern was the rounds leaving the range.

“It seems like the big complaint is the noise but in my mind the bigger complaint is rounds leaving the range that could have possibly impacted someone else’s property. Noise is something that we can deal with. I am the last person that wants a round to impact a dog, your shed and I certainly don’t want a person to be (impacted). I don’t even want a broken windshield on someone’s car if it came from our range,” argued Peterson.

Peterson also spoke with the commissioners about the use of Tannerite, saying he didn’t think the pre-mixed binary explosive marketed primarily for exploding targets used during firearms practice was dangerous, but conceded that they would not allow it to be used on the range in the future.

Operations Manager of Advantage Tactical Jim Peterson

Operations Manager of Advantage Tactical Jim Peterson

He stated that in his opinion it didn’t seem possible for the small explosions from the Tannerite to shake pictures from the walls in nearby homes as neighboring homeowners had previously reported.

Peterson also argued that he didn’t think the bullet holes in Phillips’ residence could have come from the range since the range had been closed for several months last winter after one of his range officials had to be removed from the property by local police.

The operations manager also vehemently denied that any firing had occurred on the range before the hours in the ordinance as claimed by many neighboring property owners. “We have never shot before 10:00 a.m.,” said Peterson.

District two commissioner Keri Denney questioned Peterson about the hours of operation as well as the presence of a range officer on the range as prescribed in the shooting range ordinance.

“We have this whole group of people over here saying that you have been firing 7:30-8:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and one man standing here that’s not here every Saturday and Sunday saying that it ain’t happening — I have a hard time signing off on that as a commissioner,” said Denney.

Denney stated that she had researched the range and is concerned with what she has viewed in newspaper articles, the videos filmed at the range, and the Advantage Tactical facebook page.

“When you are shooting at a target straight ahead and your pistol is going at it is one thing — I like to shoot too — but when you are out there and your teaching warriors or war combat or whatever — and they are rolling around on the ground and they are shooting at cars and they are doing this and that — they don’t have a clue what they are shooting,” said Denney. “And to stand there and say, for anybody to stand there and say they do, is just wrong.”

The district two commissioner also expressed similar concerns to Sgt. Boswell regarding the videos from the range posted on the internet. She shared several statistics about the distance that rounds could travel from certain weapons stating that many could travel well over two miles.

“I have watched the you-tube videos (see embedded video below) and I am a little concerned as to where those rounds you don’t see hit are going. Where did those rounds go? My son is in that middle school — that is one of my main concerns,” said Denney.

County Attorney Jerry Ann Conner expressed her concerns about the range’s adherence to the rules and conditions imposed by the planning commission when the ordinance was passed in 2013 such as a noise study, technical team evaluation, hours of shooting, liability insurance, and the presence of a range safety officer during shooting.

Peterson would not admit to the board that any firing had taken place at the range without the presence of range safety officers, instead telling the board he would need a specific time and date so he could check the records with Rusty Morris of the AR Bunker, the most recent sublessee of the range.

Morris was not in attendance at the meeting but did tell reporters last week that a range safety officer was not always present during live firing if the shooters had already been trained.

Commissioner Caldwell asked Peterson directly if any of the conditions or rules of the ordinance had been broken and Peterson said he did not think they had.

Commissioner Hammond, also a veteran of law enforcement, discussed with Peterson several safety concerns that he observed when he visited the range including the combined use of metal targets with automatic weapons. He also expressed concern about the liability insurance of Advantage Tactical as well as the insurance of organizations leasing the range from them.

Chairman Boone then stated that in light of recent events something needs to be done immediately.

“Tonight is not a public hearing but more of a fact-gathering meeting. We have a serious incident that requires the attention of the board and needs to be brought out to the public. I think we have identified that there are some problems over there — not just safety and noise — but the fact that we probably don’t have 100% compliance with the ordinance,” said Boone.

“I am confident that we need to go back and I am going to recommend that we suspend any activities out there. I think we need to get an unbiased expert outside of this room to look at that range and investigate. I would also ask that Sheriff Henry and Sgt. Boswell be involved. I think we need to completely go back and look at every aspect of that range from A-Z. In the meantime, we ask you (Advantage Tactical) to cease and desist, suspending any activities involving the discharge of firearms at the range.”

Peterson agreed to cease the discharge of firearms temporarily and Boone agreed to expedite the process if possible.

Commissioner Denney motioned that upon agreement by Mr. Peterson that the range be closed for live shooting until at least September 23, 2015. Commissioner Caldwell seconded the motion and the motion passed unanimously. The board will meet again on Tuesday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m.

“The two deputies standing on the porch with rounds whistling through the trees — that is above speculation — we have two certified officers standing there that heard this, we just cannot tolerate that,” said Boone in closing.

 

Comments

  1. I was able to attend the meeting. First, let me say that I thought our Chairman Lee Boone handled the very serious issue concerning the firing range in a very professional and appropriate way. He allowed anyone and everyone who had issue’s and knowledge concerning the range to speak. This was in my opinion the proper way to conduct this issue. Let’s be honest if we have an issue, lot’s of times we feel that Government does not care and does not want to hear or even be bothered by an issue. By his action’s he showed the citizens of Heard County that issue’s do matter. The first to speak Mr. Talmadge did a very good job by having the facts and his timeline very precise and accurate. With reports that had been filed with the Sheriff’s department. In all honesty not sure if I could have done half as good as Mr. Talmadge with live rounds being fired into my home and woods on my property. Sheriff Ross Henry was also there and backed up Mr. Talmadge also from the Sheriff’s department Sgt. Boswell , investigator with our Sheriff’s dept., was there and gave his finding’s concerning the range. What impressed me most about Sgt. Boswell was he has just had a hip replacement but his concerns for the safety of our community must be very important to him because he was at the meeting. Many other citizen’s also gave and shared good thoughts concerning the range and it’s failure to in my opinion to adhere to the rules. My District 2 Comm. Keri Denney, also brought up some good comments. I had emailed her my concerns and she had gotten back to me. I had also emailed my concerns to then previous Board, my main concerns are still The Middle School, Day Care Center (May not be opened now), garbage hoppers, Church of God, Arena and Emergency Services. Friend in my opinion the entire Board were concerned and wanted to do what was best for our County. Please if you do have issue’s contact your District Representative with concerns or questions. Let us help our elected officials do what’s best for us all by asking and being involved. My personal opinion on the range is that we don’t need it, it’s unsafe and out of Mr. Peterson’s on mouth the people of Heard County don’t use the range. So it cannot be bringing in enough money for the unsafe conditions. Also, the range is subbing out the range to different organizations so at times who even knows who is shooting. Even on the Advantage Tactical site after the incident were Deputies went to range and asked the shooter’s to stop. On the site they had a post asking that whoever was there that day to let them know, now they cannot say they know who is there with that post.

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