Features — 01 January 2013

Building Bridges

Forging positive relationships with government agencies really pays

It is said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. When you’re in the shooting range business, however, there’s one more absolute: regulations.

There’s no way around them, and there’s no way around having to deal with the agencies that monitor and enforce them.

You can choose to bristle and balk at these agencies and their rules, or you can take a positive-minded approach and work closely with them. Here’s why and how one shooting organization – the Oregon Association of Shooting Ranges (OASR) – took the high road. Their building bridges approach has really paid off.

Advantages of a state range organization

“We’ve organized our state’s shooting ranges in such a way that we’re not fighting the agencies,” said George Pitts, chairman of the Oregon Association of Shooting Ranges (OASR). “Rather, the range association makes sure all members comply with all regulations. It’s what we want to do, and it’s the right thing to do. When you work hand-in-hand with the agencies, and when potential issues come up, you have a track record of good performance.

“Ranges can’t look at themselves as competitors,” Pitts continued. “We all have similar interests, and now smaller clubs, ranges and shooting organizations can join, contribute
to and enjoy the clout that a larger association offers.”

An association can represent ranges, maintain key relationships with the regulatory agencies, help ranges comply with rules and be an advocate.

“The NSSF provided the seed money it took to get our organization going 10 years ago,” says Pitts. “We’ve been proud to go to different states and talk to their folks to tell them how we got organized and how their ranges can benefit. Washington and Wisconsin are two examples.”

Why agency relationships matter

It is counter-productive to “fight” state agencies or view them as enemies. Their job is to regulate safety and safeguard the environment.

“We explain to our ranges why it’s so important to maintain good relationships and be proactive
about complying,” explained Pitts. “Sometime you’re going to need that agency backing you up. The alternative is to have environmental groups or anti-gun groups take down your local ranges one at a time.

“We developed our organization as a result of people using the state agencies to try to do just that. It can bankrupt you in terms of money—lawyer fees—and time—your own—to fight it.
“But if you’ve established a relationship with your state agencies, claims and suits never may never really get off the ground,” Pitts added.

“You can actually work yourself into a relationship such that a regulatory department might call you first, before even investigating a claim.”

That’s one reward for openly working hard to comply with all rules and regulations: the agencies become your allies.

“Here’s the key,” summarized Pitts. “Maintaining a relationship with your agencies is critical. It says, ‘We’re serious, we’re credible, we have the same goals as you do and we’re not trying to sneak anything by. We do everything with you, and by the book.’ This means that other groups and organizations can’t use the environmental or regulatory agencies against you. You’ve got the working relationship on your side. Then when there’s a claim against a range, you’re the good guy.

“These people have the latitude to make your life miserable, or less miserable,” Pitts laughed.
But it’s true.

“Be cooperative,” is his advice in a nutshell. “Their jobs, at times, can’t be much fun. You can make it better. Be a positive force, and that will pay off.”

Real-life examples

Stan Pate, vice chair of OASR, gives a couple of examples of how building great agency relationships can pay dividends.

“Our range, the Douglas Ridge Rifle Club, had mistakenly pushed some soil into a wetland,” Pate said, “so we called the Department of State Lands (DSL). Their representative was on her guard, but when we had our meeting, we asked how to fix it. She about fell out of her chair, then smiled.

“We collaborated, made a work plan and said we would work with them. We followed the plan and timeline. When the inspector came out, we had exceeded requirements. They were already of the mindset that we were good guys.”

Here’s what the inspector said that day: “I like working with people like you. You’re willing
to do what’s reasonable. I just came from a guy (in a different business) that doesn’t see it like you, and he’s going to jail.”

All that is due to the relationship built with the agency.

“We’re at the point that when a member range wants to move soil,” added Pate, “DSL is there to help us find the easy route to approval. They want us to do it right, but they’re more than happy to help us do it efficiently.”

Another example involved the Tri-County Gun Club, next to the Sherman, Ore., city line. The range could have been grandfathered in under older, less-stringent noise rules. The range, however, chose to comply with the new rules. They told the city manager so. Now the city manager is on the range’s side, and when a few complaints did come from citizens, the city manager told them everything was under code. The city became the range’s new defender.

One final and important example that both Pitts and Pate describe involved a disgruntled former member of a range who, according to Pitts, “brought us in on frivolous charges” to every organization and agency possible. But because of the association’s fine record and documentation with state agencies, all charges were dismissed by summary judgment at all levels. That’s good insurance.

Building relationships with key agencies is key to long-term success in the shooting range business. This approach works especially well when your state has a shooting association, such as OASR, to represent ranges.

The agencies can make or break you. If, however, you’ve been working with them, following the rules, asking their advice and striving to adhere to regulations, that track record is only going to help you.

Pitts said it best: “Show that you’re interested in doing the right things for the right reasons. That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s simple. It’s positive. And it builds a bridge to success.

Agencies with Which to Work

The actual names of agencies with which to work may change from state to state. Here’s the Oregon Association of Shooting Ranges’ list:
• State Department of Lands: Involved
with anything concerning wetlands
and moving earth
• Department of Environmental
Quality: Monitors and enforces environmental quality standards, such as lead levels. Enforces EPA regulations
• State Justice Department: Reviews your nonprofit status and books
• Department of Fish and Wildlife: Your state wildlife management or natural resources agency—a valuable collaboration opportunity
• Local Chambers of Commerce: Encourage business in your community
• City / Local Governments: Local ordinances such as noise and hours
• Police Organizations: Important allies. Get them shooting at your range!

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