(UPDATE: The BOC approved Advantage Tactical for a commercial shooting range permit by a 5-0 margin Thursday night)
(Franklin, GA) – A local business, Advantage Tactical Company I, LLC, will go before the Heard County Board of Commissioners Thursday evening in an attempt to gain the proper zoning permits for the operation of a commercial shooting range at the property located at 3541 Franklin Parkway in Franklin.
The organization first acquired a business license from the Heard County zoning office on August 22, 2012 as a “Private Training School” under the owner name Jim Peterson — Chief Operations Officer of Advantage Tactical.
According to Heard County Zoning Administrator Katrina Knowles, Peterson never mentioned a commercial shooting range would be a part of the business when he initially acquired the license. At the time, Heard County zoning had no provisions for a commercial shooting range.
In an interview earlier this year, Peterson said that given the name of the business “Advantage Tactical,” it should have been obvious to anyone that the business entailed firearms and a shooting range.
According to nearby residential neighbors of the business, many called 911 and county dispatch several times late last year and early this year to report large amounts of gunfire in the wooded area near their homes. Said one neighbor who wished to remain anonymous,”We had no idea what was going on over there, it sounded like a war zone and we were afraid for our small children’s safety as they played in our own yard.”
Another nearby property owner, Talmadge Phillips, expressed his concern as well. “I don’t have a problem with a man owning a business,”said Phillips, “but the noise is just too much right here in our neighborhood.” Phillips said that his granddaughter was afraid to roam around in the woods on his property after hearing all of the gunfire.
Jim Peterson stated that it should be noted that on one occasion when 911 was called the shooting was not coming from the Advantage Tactical property but rather from another location.
According to Peterson and majority owner of the business, Keith Tompkins, the gun range meets all of the requirements and industry standards for a commercial shooting range. Tompkins grandfather, Kyle Tompkins, originally owned the property. The land is currently owned by Kyle Tompkins’ son, Phil Tompkins, who leases the land to the Advantage Tactical organization.
Peterson has been adamant that their facilities offer more than just a shooting range. Tompkins echoed Peterson’s sentiments in a Letter to the Editor to HeardCitzen.com earlier this year:
“All of my business partners and I are military veterans. One is retired Air Force, one served in the Air Force, and the other was a Marine. We have a very high level of respect for our country and the communities in which we live and work. We all desire to echo the legacy of service to the communities in which we live and specifically this community like my grandfather, Kyle, so diligently did.
I also would like everyone to know that we are a private school. Do we have a firing range? Absolutely. However, at this time, we are using it only as part of our firearms safety training classes. Nevertheless, we have spent many hours and many thousands of dollars to make our firing ranges safe…not only for any student using it, but also for the surrounding properties adjacent to our campus.
All of our berms exceed the recommendations of the NRA for thickness and height for our specific distances. We have specifically made sure, via overhead photography, we are not shooting in the direction of any school.
We have had a former Naval Officer/range master and a law enforcement veteran with 38 years of service who is also a range master who built the ranges for two police academies consult with us on the safety of our range.
I would hope that everyone understands that the rifles fired at our facility are no more “high powered” than most hunting rifles that are regularly used in Heard County. The safety of our range is our highest priority and we have spared no expense in making sure we are abundantly safe.” Keith Tompkins ~ Keith Tompkins, Letter to the Editor, May 1, 2013
Advantage Tactical seemed by and large to go unnoticed by the local community until an advertisement was placed in the Times~Journal newspaper on March 26, 2013 in advance of the “Celebration of our 2nd Amendment Rights” event held at the Heard County Covered Arena on April 13, 2013.
The advertisement stated that attendees of the arena event would be taken via shuttle service to the Advantage Tactical Property on Franklin Parkway. One line in the ad read: “Firing Ranges will be open all day– scheduling is required.”
At the regular Board of Commissioners meeting on March 28, 2013, District 5 Commissioner Sandi Allen motioned to add a discussion about the legality of the planned event as it related to Heard County zoning laws. Allen stated that she had received several phone calls about the ad in the paper from citizens who knew nothing of the new business in Heard County.
Chairman Boone told Allen that the advertised 2nd Amendment event was actually being sponsored by the Coweta Tea Party in conjunction with Advantage Tactical as a way to raise awareness about 2nd amendment rights.
Commissioner Allen stated, “I talked to Katrina Knowles (Heard County Zoning Administrator) today, and got a copy of the business license issued to Advantage Tactical which says: ‘Private School Training — No Firearms, Guns, Ammunition, Shootings Allowed.’ The business license is only for tactical training and survival training.”
Boone told the board that night that he and Larry Hooks (District 1 Commissioner) had visited the owners at the site of the gun range and were assured that personal firearms would not be allowed at the April 13 event. He stated that the Coweta Tea Party had placed the ad and not Advantage Tactical.
Heard County Attorney Jerry Ann Connor stated at the meeting that she had spoke with Peterson about the zoning conflict. “Right now Heard County does not have anything in its zoning ordinance that would allow for a shooting range or a firing range,” stated Connor. “To be able to do what he is asking to do there is going to have to be a procedure to first amend the zoning ordinance to allow for that type of use in a certain district and after that they would have to come apply and come before the board. If it was to be approved there could be certain conditions but that would take time. Right now Heard County does not have any way to authorize a shooting range.”
Katrina Knowles also confirmed in a later interview that she had told Peterson several times that his license did not cover a shooting range. “As Zoning Administrator of Heard County, I can assure you that Mr. Peterson was well aware of the zoning procedures required to do this type of business. I explained to him several times myself that amendments would have to be made to the Zoning Ordinance, and if approved by the Boards, then he would have to file for approval to operate,” stated Knowles. “This would consist of public hearings where newspaper ads, letters, and proper notice would be posted to make citizens well aware of the meetings and what is being requested. At the public hearings, the public would have a chance to speak and voice their opinions openly.”
After the March 28 meeting, the Coweta Tea Party changed the advertising for the event by removing the sentence about open firing ranges and updating it to read: “Ranges will be open for spectators to view Exhibitions and Demonstrations.”
The Board of Commissioners moved to have Connor send a letter to Jim Peterson of Advantage Tactical on behalf of the board detailing what would not be allowed at the April 13 event.
HeardCitizen.com obtained a copy of this letter from Chairman Boone which read:
(Letter from BOC to Advantage Tactical before 2nd Amendment Event at the Heard County Covered Arena)
March 29, 2013
RE: Event to be held at 3541 Franklin Parkway, Franklin, Georgia on April 13, 2013
Dear Mr. Peterson,
The Board of Commissioners raised concerns last night at its meeting regarding the above described event. I have received assurances from you that no public shooting would take place on the above referenced property. However, the attached advertisement seems to indicate otherwise.
Your business license for the above-described property is for a private school and does not permit the operation of a firing range. Please see the attached business license which states the type of business “Private School/Training *No firearms, Guns, Ammunition, Shooting Lics.* If the public is allowed to fire weapons as part of the operation, you will be in violation of your business license and the current zoning of the property.
If you have any questions, please contact Lee Boone. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Lee Boone, Chairman Heard County Board of Commissioners
Event organizers said beforehand they expected 4,000 people to attend the 2nd Amendment event on April 13, however, the numbers came in much lower than that with the full day’s attendance estimated at only 300-400.
Despite the letter sent by Chairman Boone, members of the general public were allowed to shoot at the Advantage Tactical gun range during the event that day.
After the event, HeardCitizen.com received correspondence from a few citizens questioning the safety on the gun ranges at the event.
One firearm training specialist with over 25 years of experience in the field attended the event and agreed to speak with HeardCitizen.com on the agreement of anonymity. “I think these guys have a good idea in mind here, but they have some things they need to work on. Saturday’s event just did not have the required safety checks in place. There was a lack of the required supervision for the number of shooters on the firing line. The number one issue I observed is that they should not have allowed people in certain areas to be shooting on their own.”
Another Carroll County couple who attended the event also expressed safety concerns. “My wife and I love guns and we are very comfortable around them and have been all of our life, but with that being said — we did not feel the safe at all at this shooting range. We got back on the next shuttle van and headed back to the arena as soon as we got the chance. We were really surprised they were shooting in the same direction the vans were driving in from.”
Peterson stated in an interview that the event was safe, claiming that in the instance of the vans that they had two-way radios to alert the drivers when firing was taking place that might be unsafe to the incoming vans. He also added that only people that they knew personally or who had been properly trained were allowed to shoot on the ranges that day.
HeardCitizen.com spoke to some people who claimed they were allowed to shoot and had not been trained by nor knew anyone at Advantage Tactical before that day.
Peterson claimed that the company had not violated the Letter sent by Chairman Boone because no money had changed hands and the people were all allowed to shoot free of charge. When asked about the public being allowed to shoot at the event, Boone also agreed that since they had not taken money for shooting then they had not violated the orders of his letter.
Boone also commented about the shooting at the event as well as safety concerns. “I did not visit the shooting range myself that day, but it is my understanding that no money changed hands. We sent that letter more as a way to avoid liability for the county if something bad did happen,” said Boone. “As far as safety concerns, this was just a one time event and I am thankful no one was hurt. I don’t think we will be having any more of these type events in the future.”
Chairman Boone has been vocal about his support for the new business. “Personally, I think this thing could be a big draw for the county if it is operated correctly. These people coming from out of the county to go through these classes and shoot will stop somewhere and eat and spend money — it could be a great thing for our local economy,” said Boone earlier this year.
At the April Board of Commissioner’s meeting, Peterson spoke to the board about the operation and the zoning issues. The following are from Gracie Rowe’s meeting notes:
From April BOC Meeting:
Jim Peterson of the Advantage Tactical Company then addressed the board. He stated that he and all his business partners are veterans and “saw a need in the community to teach citizens self-reliance.” He also told the board that his company does much more than offer firearm lessons, they offer CPR certification, teach survival skills such as purifying water, and much more.
Peterson explained to the board that he had no intention of breaking rules and reported that he checked the zoning requirements and even asked county zoning officials as well as multiple county government offices if he was correctly fulfilling the necessary requirements to open his business.
When asked about a misleading advertisement in the newspaper, he apologized to the board and informed them that the Tea Party group the event was held in coalition with was in charge of advertising and said that once he was made aware, he quickly fixed the error in the ad.
After expressing his need to proceed with his business, Commissioner Crook stated “you should have been guided in the right direction from the very beginning.” County Attorney Jerry Ann Conner advised the board to motion for the planning commission to meet and then request an amendment to have conditional usage in a zone that would allow for a firing range. Commissioner Crook made this motion, Commissioner Hooks seconded the motion and all were in favor.
After a five minute recess, Chairman Boone told the board that Conner had spoken with Peterson and asked if the board wanted to allow the tactical school to operate until the rezoning per a signed statement agreeing to proceed with the rezoning process. Commissioner Crook made a motion to proceed with Conner’s suggestion. His motion received a second from Commissioner Cammon and the entire board was in favor.
Peterson and company have continued to maintain that they were very up front with all county officials about their plans for the school and range from the very beginning. Peterson said in an interview that a local county official came to the range several times in early 2013 and told them they were not in violation of any ordinances, but he refused to give the name of this county official saying he didn’t want to “throw anyone else under the bus.”
Peterson also stated that a conservation agreement with the county had been nullified at the passing of Kyle Tompkins who had originally signed the agreement. The agreement provides tax breaks to property owners who agree to certain property restrictions. It was later determined that Phil Tompkins had signed to extend the agreement through the end of 2013.
HeardCitizen.com also confirmed with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that an investigation is ongoing at 3541 Franklin Parkway for “Unpermitted Construction.”
The Advantage Tactical Property is surrounded on several sides by property owned by the Heard County Board of Commissioners.
The public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Heard County Courthouse. Members of the public will be allowed to speak and the board will vote to approve or deny the application during new business. Stay tuned to HeardCitizen.com for further details and a report on the decision at tomorrow night’s meeting.