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County officials to research regulatory authority on helicopter issue

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

County officials are brushing up on the laws of a number of agencies in response to concern about Helicopter Sniper Adventures operating at a gun range near Aubrey.

Big Boar Tactical operates the range near FM2931 and Liberty Road, offering a range of classes. It recently added a feature that allows customers to pay to shoot at targets on the ground from a helicopter.

The gun range’s spokesman says the business, which has existed for 10 years, added the helicopter feature this year and operates safely and legally.

While Jody Gonzales, the county’s emergency management coordinator, has heard the concern and fielded calls about this latest feature, he said there is a great deal of research required to know whether the county can do anything.

“Before I can go out there and look around, I need to know what state and federal regulations and specific rules govern that stuff,” he said. “It’s not something we deal with — people shooting out of helicopters — on a daily basis.”

Gonzales said he wants to know what kind of regulatory authority the county has. If it does not have any, he said he wants to find out who does.

“While we may not be the authority to enforce the rules, we may need to notify them [other agencies] and say, ‘Hey, are they doing this within your scope?’” Gonzales said. “It’s been a gun range out there for a long time. This is just a new venture they have started. We have never really gotten complaints on the gun range, just on the flying and shooting from the helicopter.”

He said he know there are many legal protections for outdoor shooting ranges.

“I’m there to make sure regulations in the county are upheld,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on whether they should or shouldn’t do it. If they are conducting it within the [legal] means to do it, that is an unincorporated area of the county and something they are allowed to do.”

Michael Lauer, a resident with property near the gun range, is glad people are starting to respond to his e-mails and concerns.

“I am not a gun activist. It’s not that I am trying to [take away] guns or anything else,” said Lauer, whose property adjoins the 55-acre gun range. “You don’t do it with 13 residences wrapped around the property.”

Dan Claassen, spokesman for Helicopter Sniper Adventures, said he and company officials were blindsided by recent press concerning the business.

“This is a sand and gravel pit located in a rural location out in the country,” he said. “It is a certified firing range. They have been doing shooting there for 10 years and adding the helicopter is totally legal. But I understand the frustration.

“The reality is what we’re doing is legal and safe and is a whole lot of fun.”

Claassen said the clients are put through intensive training and must prove they are capable of safely firing the guns before they are allowed in the helicopter.

“Or we give them their money back and send them home — no hard feelings,” he said.

Claassen said company officials want to be friends with the surrounding community and want to understand and blend in with it. The flights are scheduled twice a month and never on holidays, he said.

“We’ve made a very aggressive effort to confine our flight path to the property,” Claassen said. “It’s 55 acres, and we don’t fly outside the boundaries. All of the firing is down, to the targets that have a 35-foot embankment. There is no possibility of stray fire at all. But they don’t want us. There is no secret to that.”

Some residents have expressed concern about the range’s exploding targets.

Claassen said the range had exploding targets in place before the helicopter rides started.

“To complain about these with the helicopter seems disingenuous,” he said. “The helicopter didn’t bring the gun range there.”

The Upper Trinity Regional Water District also owns some property nearby.

Officials there said they are starting to look into the gun range, but their interest is limited.

“We are checking to make sure they are not trespassing on our property. That’s the limit of our concern at this time,” said Jason Pierce, the district’s manager of watershed and contract services.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Hugh Coleman said that while he is concerned about the helicopter rides and the gunfire, there is not much the county can do.

“Officially, because it is in the unincorporated area, the county cannot regulate firearms, just like we cannot regulate fireworks,” he said. “My constituents have asked me what the options might be. I have told them to contact the fire marshal, who might consider it a nuisance, or they might consider civil action on their own.”

In the meantime, the flights will go on, as will the research by the fire marshal’s office.

“That’s kind of where we’re at. It’s taking a little time to get phone calls and dig into that side of things,” Gonzales said.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.