STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
The Durango Gun Club is requiring its members to also be a member of the National Rifle Association, a decision that is proving to be controversial.
The gun club, a nonprofit, amended its bylaws in December. If members don’t join the NRA, they cannot continue to be part of the private Durango club.
Steve Doob, who joined the Durango Gun Club last year, said the requirement is preventing him from renewing his membership.
“I would have thought that the club directors value freedom more. Where’s my freedom to join or not join any organization that I want?” he said. “Why should I join the NRA if I want to join the shooting range? The NRA has a lot of nutty positions I don’t want to support.”
Joe Perino, secretary and treasurer of the Durango Gun Club, said the decision to require members to belong to the NRA was financial, not political. Being a 100 percent NRA club makes the local club eligible for NRA grants, he said, allowing it to make much-needed improvements to the shooting range.
The Durango Gun Club performs many services to the community, including allowing law enforcement to train there and providing instruction to students.
Private vs. public
The Durango Gun Club’s indoor shooting range, on Florida Road and adjacent to Chapman Hill, is on land owned by the city of Durango. An outdoor shooting range in Bodo Park is on property owned by La Plata County.
The in-town land was leased to the gun club for free for 50 years in 1963. That lease ended in 2013. Cathy Metz, director of Durango’s Parks & Recreation Department, said the city is about to renew the lease more or less as is on a year-to-year basis.
According to the old lease, the gun club was allowed to construct buildings on the property as long as its facilities were not “used for private purposes or for the private profit or gain of any individual, partnership, corporation or association.”
Neither City Manager Ron LeBlanc nor City Attorney David Smith returned calls requesting comment about whether the NRA requirement conflicts with the terms of the lease.
Under terms of the lease with the county for the outdoor shooting range, the gun club pays rent of $1 a year. The county’s lease doesn’t say whether it’s permissible for a third party to profit from the lease.
“No provisions in the lease directly speak to this, though other regulations may apply,” said Joanne Spina, assistant county manager.
The fact that the city and county are entwined with the club troubles some local gun lovers.
Elk hunter Andrew Gulliford, a Fort Lewis College professor and columnist for The Durango Herald, said he opposes the city and county continuing to lease property to the gun club if there’s an NRA membership requirement.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Gulliford said. “The NRA is completely out of control and does not represent responsible hunters. It is an organization that thrives on fear and does not represent the great heritage of gun ownership in the American West.”
Doob said it would be outrageous if Durango’s city government materially or financially supported a recreational club – like the Boys & Girls Club or the Girl Scouts – that discriminated against people because they didn’t belong to the right organization.
said, “I’ve shot guns for 20 years. I have a real problem with the NRA requirement.” “It’s very discriminatory. If it’s a private club on city land, that makes it worse. It means my tax dollars are going to support them.”
According to the club’s bylaws, which were amended Dec. 17, all members must maintain their affiliation with the NRA. Any member who has been suspended or expelled by the NRA automatically is subject to suspension or expulsion from the club.
Also, any amendments to the club’s bylaws must be submitted to the NRA for approval.
Money and guns
The Durango Gun Club’s vice president, Tim Gwynn, said it is “difficult to make capital improvements just with dues.” He said the NRA’s grants would “make the range longer, safer and more accommodating to people.”
Gwynn said joining the NRA was not a hardship for club members like himself, who find the NRA’s agenda politically congenial.
“Lobbyists for the National Rifle Association will make legislators more aware of what I’d like – that’s the benefit I get,” he said.
Perino said he is an NRA member, but he also doesn’t agree with all of its positions.
There are other local options for those who object to the gun club’s NRA membership requirement.
“There’s a shooting range in Bayfield, the Lion’s Club, that’s open to the public,” Perino said.
He said the Durango Gun Club is apolitical. It does not endorse or donate to political candidates, and its 700 members are welcome to vote their conscience in elections.
Perino said he was frustrated that people criticizing the club’s decision to require NRA membership didn’t air their complaints in club meetings. But he also said members voted to join by such an overwhelming margin that opposition to the requirement probably wouldn’t have effected the outcome.
“This discussion has been going on for a long time, and we discussed the pros and cons of joining the NRA,” he said. “As a private club, this is the same as not allowing felons or rapists in. We changed our bylaws, and this is no different than any other requirement.”
NRA and politics
The NRA touches a raw nerve for many locals who remember its efforts to recall state Rep. Mike McLachlan last year.
Doob said he was especially incensed that the Durango Gun Club is obliging its members to give money to “a fringe right-wing political organization” that is actively attempting to influence local politics.
“The NRA tried to get rid of a lot of Colorado politicians last year, and they succeeded in getting rid of two, though not McLachlan,” he said. “That’s going pretty darn far. And I think their print ads are misleading and ridiculous.”
Last year, state Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron were recalled after their support of new gun-control legislation. The efforts to recall McLachlan, who also voted in favor of the legislation, failed to garner enough local signatures to force a recall election.
Where will the money go?
Perino said the NRA will spend the money it gets from membership fees paid for by Durango Gun Club members as it sees fit, and some of the money may go to political advertising. But he said this was the nature of giving money to any complex and unwieldy organization: You get the bad with the good.
“McLachlan is a good friend of mine. He’s a Vietnam veteran, just like I am,” he said. “We’re not a closed organization that hates the world. We want to provide a better service to our people.”
Jeff Mannix, who teaches a tactical defense class for handguns, said the gun-loving community is broad and diverse in the West. Within that community, teachers, lawyers and doctors with moderate political views outnumber NRA enthusiasts by a margin of 20 to 1, he said.
Given the population’s wide interest in gun safety, the gun club’s reliance on government support and the broad unpopularity of the NRA, Mannix said it was only realistic to expect the club’s NRA membership requirement to become “an issue.”
“If it were on private property, you could limit all the people who use it to white males who are 50 years old,” Mannix said. “But the facility is on public land, and the NRA is taking stances that make many people uncomfortable – including its own members.”