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Public statements in town meetings regarding the Lansing Rod and Gun Club controversy over the past several months have been one-sided, with non-member neighbors speaking at length against the plan to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements laid out in a consent order that was issued in 2016.  Once or twice a reader asked, on our Facebook page, whether anyone had spoken in favor of the gun club in public meetings where opponents to the plan to move shooting ranges have spoken passionately against the club's plan.  Except for an attorney who presented an early version of the plan to the Planning Board, nobody has.

I don't think it is a stretch of the imagination to think that club members must have been cautioned by their attorney not to make public statements, especially given the vociferous opposition.  But it is a shame that the conversation has been one-sided.  The Rod and Gun Club has been a piece of the Lansing community for half a century.  While its primary purpose is... well... to be a gun club, the members have often reached out to the community, inviting the public onto the property for competitions, sportsman shows, a breakfast for the miners who had been trapped over night, and cooking food to help celebrate the Lansing Volunteer Fire Department's centennial, among many other things.

Those outreach events weren't a PR campaign by any stretch of the imagination.  It was just a local group of enthusiasts who wanted to contribute to their community.  So the bad PR stemming from the club's attempt to comply with the EPA has got to be hurting.  And the lack of public response is definitely hurting.

The issue has rippled like water when you throw a stone in a pond.  At the center of the ripple are the folks who live next door, who are worried about shooting ranges being moved closer to their home, and what all those bullets will mean.  A group of Ludlowville neighbors are concerned about what 50 years of lead bullets are doing to the area, including Salmon Creek and groundwater on nearby properties that get their water from wells.

The outcry has been largely aimed at a jurisdictionally-impaired town board, most likely because it's the closest governmental entity.  Town officials were excoriated a few weeks ago for 'lying to the public' and 'colluding with gun club attorneys' after a building permit was issued.  Governments are constrained, and in the current circumstance the town government has little jurisdiction, and probably had no option but to approve the building permit once the conditions were met.

The EPA isn't doing anything to help explain the situation to the public.  Not that they have to, but the whole issue arose from their consent order that supposedly was issued to by the Environmental Protection Agency to... protect the environment.  It is understandable that doing something along the lines of what the club is trying to do will make Salmon Creek less at risk in the future.  But it is very unclear how, realistically, that 50 years of lead is impacting the area or how the plan does anything to insure the area is safe.  Reading the consent order over and over, it seems as if the clock starts now and all the existing lead doesn't count.

It is probably human nature that when people speak publicly it is usually because they are 'up in arms' (excuse the pun) about something.  Facts are often victims of this passion, and the worst possible assumptions are paraded as if they were the gospel truth.  So in that universe the creek and surrounding lands are contaminated with lead and we're all going to die, while in the mirror universe none of the lead has seeped into the ground, but is just sitting there harmlessly.

And then there are dollars.  The cost to the club of completely fixing the problem would likely end it, as it has for other clubs that have faced millions of dollars of cleanup costs.  And for the neighbors there is also a dollar cost as property values are impacted by a potential lead problem.

The big unanswered question is public health.  Are those spent bullets a problem or aren't they?  That is something that independent testing could answer.  The club has reportedly had testing done, but the neighbors have said in public meetings that they don't believe the results.  The Town Board has said it wants independent testing, but has asked the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation to do it.

Lansing is not in dire financial straights, and careful spending over many years has put it in this good condition.  It seems that the relatively small cost (relative to the bag-o-money the Town has available for emergencies and projects that come up) of getting independent testing done would be something the Lansing public could get behind.  If it confirms the club's test results, there will surely be people who continue to dispute the club's plan, but for the most part it will help folks on both sides of the dispute.  And it is one of the very few things the Town can actually do within its jurisdiction over the matter.

The national gun control controversy is loosely linked to this local flap, which has led me to think about why non-police or military people need guns at all.  Growing up a city boy, I never thought about it until I married into a hunting family.  While taking a shower this morning, where I do some of my best thinking, it occurred to me that hobby shooting is a pretty good thing.  First of all, honing a skill and improving hand-eye coordination is useful and fun.  Doing so with real guns in a responsible way in a community (club) that advocates doing it the right way is a lot better than video games where there is no thought to consequences because you're not killing real people and if you die you get more lives.

Sure some people abuse guns, but many people abuse cars or hammers or drugs or each other.  The Internet has great potential for good, but look at how it is abused by spammers and scammers.  That doesn't make the responsible use of email and Web sites less valuable or virtuous.

There are a other questions that have been raised, such as 'why not take the obvious solution to potential future pollution by making it a club policy that non-toxic bullets are used exclusively instead of lead?'  And what, exactly is the plan for cleaning up lead on the new ranges, at what intervals, and is there a plan to finance the cleanups?

If I were an attorney for a gun club I would certainly caution members to keep quiet, especially given the community push-back.  But sometimes attorneys go too far in protecting their clients' interests to the detriment of their overall mission.  Appointing the attorney as spokesman to answer as many questions as is legally feasible would provide a focus for neighbors to have a discussion and get answers.  Or a designated club official.  Someone to speak up in public meetings, and for neighbors to have a dialog with.

lansing Rod & Gun Club QuestionA Facebook reader aksed about gun club representation at public town meetings

At the last Planning Board meeting neighbors of a proposed solar farm expressed their concerns about storm water runoff and chemical impact on their properties if solar panels are damaged.  I was struck by the openness of the developer's representative, and how he immediately answered their questions, or referred to his engineer for more details.  His answers were clear and understandable.  He handed them his business card and promised to send them more information on the specific panels being used, and details he didn't have handy at the meeting.

That could be a lesson for the gun club.  Neighbors' genuine fear could be assuaged by an open conversation in which neighbors' concerns can be heard.  Interestingly, changes to the shooting range relocation plan illustrated that some of the closest neighbors' concerns were heard.  The direction of shooting was angled away from the original path that would have been closer to the neighbors' house, and other tweaks seemed to be in response to publicly expressed concerns.  But with no spokesman to clearly and publicly express that, there was nobody to advocate for the club.  Our reader hit the nail on the head.  Not having a pubic presence is making the situation worse.

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