Board of Regents heavy handing GSU gun range out of use

The Georgia Southern Shooting Sports Education Center was a much anticipated draw for the community by way of a collaborative effort of state and local agencies with the help of private donors, but after seventeen months in operation, the facility does not have much to show for the effort. And neither do the taxpayers.

Based on information provided by the University, the center was built with Georgia Southern University considers private funds. $6 million broken down by these “private” donors:

  • The Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Wildlife Resources Division: $3.3 million (through a grant which was secured by DNR)
  • Georgia Southern University/ University System – $1.5 million
  • Easton Sports Development Foundation – $500,000
  • The City of Statesboro – $500,000
  • The Archery Trade Association – $200,000 for operating costs

For public entities that contributed direct tax dollars, such as Georgia DNR and the City of Statesboro, it does leave a question on the return on investment to the community. At the time of the funding approval, then-Mayor Joe Brannen and council approved a resolution for the money which said that the SSEC was in the “best interest of public welfare and safety of citizens of the City of Statesboro due to the facility providing the citizens of Statesboro the opportunity for education and training in the shooting sports, providing the Statesboro Police Department a state of the art center for training session, and causing an increase in tourism in the City of Statesboro.”

To date, the facility has not been used for training by the Statesboro Police Department in any formal capacity. The tourism effect as a result of the range has yet to be determined.

When the facility opened in September 2015, Georgia Southern issued a press release touting the facility as ‘the first of its kind’ on a college campus that would “provide new experiences for many students and community members by serving as a comprehensive center for education, training, competition and recreation.”

Echoing the release, Executive Director of Campus Recreation, Gene Sherry, said “The educational experiences in the shooting sports we will be able to provide for our students, community and region through this facility may be the only time an individual will have the opportunity for such an experience.” [emphasis added]

Neither of the broad brush predictions seem to have materialized.

The $6 million investment has yielded a mere 50 memberships, none of which are for Georgia Southern students. 6 seniors possess a SSEC membership, one youth, four ‘general public,’ and the remaining 39 belong to law enforcement officers, which is reportedly a result of Georgia Southern public safety officers obtaining certifications at the facility.

The open records request also revealed sources of revenue for the facility. Since September 2015, the GSU Shooting Sports Recreation Center (SSEC) has brought in:

  • $28,032.00 in handgun ammunition
  • $5,435.10 in long gun ammunition
  • $1,520.47 in hand gun rental fees (for 2016 only)
  • $690.15 in long gun rental fees (for 2016 only)
  • $44,220.00 in Approve User Application Fees

$44,220 seems considerable at $20 per Approved User Application, but it only comes to 2,211 applications. Over the course of 17 months, that averages to ~130 applications per month. Don’t forget: this number is combination of archery and firearm applications.

What an abysmal statistic. The university has over 20,000 students, Bulloch County has over 71,000 residents, and the surrounding counties – which is assumed to be what GSU mean when they said ‘regional’ use – is home to more are home to more than 36,000 people and the university could only real in 2,211 people to shoot at the facility in 17 months?

Perhaps the lack of membership or repeated use is due in part to cost couple with a series of hurdles to overcome before the facility may be used, at least that is what any gun enthusiasts say.

The University is given wide latitude on restrictions because the range is on campus property, a gun-free zone. One must become an “Approved User” before using either the gun range or the bow range.

To become an “Approved User” at the SSEC, one must do the following, and pay a $20 application fee:

  1. Complete a personal data form and shooting experience questionnaire.
  2. Complete the SSEC criminal background check consent form. (Adults Only)
  3. Successfully complete and pass a criminal background check. (Adults Only)
  4. Complete and sign a liability waiver.
  5. Watch a SSEC Range Safety and Operating Procedures Video.
  6. Pass a written firearms exam with a score of 80% or higher and display the ability to unload and make clear, perform a functions check, load a firearm, and engage a human silhouette target at ten yards seven out of ten times. (Shooters who self-identify as novice, new shooters, or shooters unable to pass both the written and practical exam will have to enroll in and pass a New Shooter Instruction Course.)
  7. Pass a written archery exam with a score of 80% or higher and display the ability to properly and safely do the following; follow all archery center rules including all whistle commands, nock an arrow and demonstrate the ability to safely shoot an arrow down range into a target at 10 meters. (Shooters who self-identify as novice, new shooters, or shooters unable to pass both the written and practical exam will have to enroll in and pass a New Shooter Instruction Course.)
  8. Specify the firearm for which they desire authorization. (Type, Make, Model, and Caliber)
  9. Specify the bow for which they desire authorization. (Type, Make, Model)
    *Information per the SSEC website

All of these things must be completed before an individual is even permitted to bring a weapon the premises.

Law enforcement officers, who are privileged to carry a firearm on a college campus, may opt out of the background check, but must still pay the application fee and any other associated costs.

AllOnGeorgia requested to view the SSEC range safety written exam, however, the University denied the request, citing OCGA 50-18-72(a)(38) which bars the public from obtaining testing materials issued by the University System of Georgia. The practical exam, however, was available for review and simply requires demonstration of properly loading and unloading a firearm.

The procedures are without a doubt at the heavy hand of the vocally anti-gun Board of Regents. It is worth noting that background checks, written exams, the viewing of a gun safety video, registration of firearms to be used, and questionnaires on shooting history are not required at traditional, private gun ranges. The arduous process is a deterrent of community use and burdensome just to practice a Constitutional right at a publicly-funded facility.

AllOnGeorgia sought information on the lists kept for firearm information and the university said no list is kept, however, No. 8 in the criterion list stipulates a user must specify for which firearm(s) they desire authorization. It’s also listed on the Approved User application, as seen in the middle of page 2.

Georgia’s weapon code, as currently written, bans people with guns in certain locations – in this case, campuses – and makes no mention of gun types. The justification that the university needs to know what type of gun an individual is shooting in order to comply with a Georgia law is null and void.

Another important point: Georgians are required to obtain a background check in order to purchase a gun and most often, the guns people use for practice at ranges are not the ones they purchased by way of a private, undocumented gun sale. Further, a background check is also necessary in order to obtain a Weapons Carry Permit in Georgia. Does Georgia Southern think a thug with an unregistered gun is going to go “practice” at the university range?

It’s great that students have access to a state-of-the-art facility, but with over 88% of the funding coming from tax dollars by way of the City and a state agency, should there not be fewer hurdles for the people saddled with the bill?


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