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My Turn: Gun range appeal was a public service

Posted: April 8, 2013 - 12:07am

We who live in Juneau need to thank my friend Phil Smith for filing an objection, and publicly protesting against, the CBJ approval of the military weapons shooting range now being built here. In response to questioning by CBJ Assembly member Jesse Kiehl, Phil has made us all aware of our need as a community to talk to each other about what this range means to us, and to our town.

In most communities sophisticated enough to issue Conditional Use Permits, Planning and Zoning Commissions are like grand juries. Planning Commissions cannot issue subpoenas on their own, but they can ask people to provide expert opinion, they can do their own research, and they can direct staff to provide information on any issue they want to explore before deciding yes or no on a request for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). Under the CUPs that I used to work with many years ago, scope is not limited to traffic flow, population density, or relief from building restrictions.

Planning Commissions can set whatever conditions, building restrictions, or allowable uses that are appropriate to their findings relevant to issues arising from a CUP application. I wish the CBJ Commission had requested more information from the applicants and others in this case. Whether any CUP request is ultimately granted, or not, is a matter for the Assembly and Law, not the Planning Commission.

For myself, like Phil, I have owned guns, been in the military, and have fired military weapons on training ranges. In my day they were known as “machine guns.” The machine guns then were nowhere near as scary or “effective” (defined as spreading the most amount of lead in the least amount of time) as the automated killing machines (aka assault weapons) on sale, over the counter, today. These are the kinds of weapons the training range owners propose to make available to paying customers for fun shooting.

My son is a police officer and member of a SWAT team. He has shown me the kinds of fully automatic killing machines that are on the streets, and in use by criminals in many communities today. But, in my opinion, more guns and assault weapons in the hands of more private citizens who want to “protect” something, or some body, from ill-defined “threats,” will only lead to more crippling wounds and more accidental deaths by gunfire. The Zimmerman case in Florida 14 months ago makes my point.

Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law initially protected Zimmerman from arrest and prosecution. A similar law is now being pushed by the majority Republicans in Alaska’s Legislature, and needs to be noted here.

These killing machines should never be handled (especially for “fun”) by anyone who is not full time military properly trained and authorized to handle them, or a member of a police force with proper training and certification. Without the continuing training in their use and handling, these killing machines - or any gun that kills at a distance for that matter - in the hands of stupid, or violent people can accidently kill and maim our neighbors, our neighbor’s children, members of our own families, even ourselves.

In Newtown, Connecticut 4 months ago, the killing was not accidental, and the result in that small town the size of Juneau was terrible. Leaving aside the shooter’s mental state, the primary cause of the Newtown disaster, in my opinion, was the too easy availability of military assault weapons and banana clips.

To suggest, as the NRA has demanded in the national news a few days ago, that every school district have a staff member, or two, armed and roaming around school hallways looking for boogey men is nuts.

Who does the NRA actually represent anyway?

Smetzer is a Juneau homeowner who has attended school, lived, and worked here for more than 30 years.

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