Urged on by a crowd, Suffolk panel votes to keep skeet range open

Both supporters and opponents of a bill that Both supporters and opponents of a bill that would have shut down the shooting range at Southaven County Park, packed the auditorium. (May 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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A proposal to shut down Suffolk's trap and skeet range at South Haven County Park was defeated Wednesday after an overflow crowd of more than 200 people, most of them gun enthusiasts, pleaded to keep it open.

The proposal, which called for ending the county's contract with Hunter Sports Inc., was rejected on a 5-0 vote in the county legislature's parks committee.

The bill's sponsor, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), said the shooting facility in Yaphank violates Brookhaven Town's noise ordinance and is a nuisance to nearby homeowners.

Nearly 50 gun enthusiasts, some from Queens, testified against the resolution during a 31/2-hour hearing. They said the range generates sales taxes for the county and gives families a place to show children how to safely use guns. Some noted that skeet shooting is an Olympic sport.

"In a world where gun violence is on the center stage, it's important to have a facility that teaches respect and responsibility about guns," said John Pomeroy, who described himself as a Boy Scout leader.

Others said range opponents are trying to violate sportsmen's Second Amendment rights. "Shooters are not demons and not bad people," said Robert Searles of East Patchogue. "They just want to enjoy their sport."

"This is not about taking away anyone's right to own a gun," said Browning, noting that her husband is a New York City police officer, her son served in Afghanistan and her family has licenses for several weapons. "It's about a bad location."

The range long has been the subject of controversy, and Browning said she moved to shutter it to protect residents from the persistent sound of gunfire as the summer approaches. A District Court in December found that the operation violated the town noise code. The operator and the county, which had received noise summonses, have appealed.

One nearby resident, Amanda Merckling, said she cannot take her 2-week-old daughter out into her yard. "She shudders every time she hears the pops from the guns," Merckling said.

Robert Sohne said he lives about a mile away in North Shirley but can still hear the noise. "A person's hobby should not take precedent over the quality of life of residents," he said.

Several backers of the skeet complex criticized nearby residents for seeking to close the 70-year-old range, saying they knew it was located there when they decided to move in.

Several residents countered that they moved in between 2001 and 2006, when the range was closed, and had been told it would never reopen.Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) who opposed Browning's measure, said lawmakers should allow the court appeals process to play out before taking any action. "It will allow a much clearer debate on the issue," he said.

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