COLUMN: Plans to baffle public ranges are baffling

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Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 1:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 1:50 p.m.

I am baffled by the baffles planned for the rifle and pistol ranges at Knight’s Trail Park.

Baffles are thick wooden beams, like louvres set in a roof, which the Sarasota County Parks Department believes are needed at the public ranges to reduce the risk of bullets escaping — even though that has never been an issue before.

The Parks Department is worried someone on the sporting clay

The Sarasota County Parks Department is proposing to install baffles at the popular rifle/pistol ranges at Knight's Trail Park, which are open to the public. Critics say the changes are unnecessary, expensive and will result in an increase of ambient noise for the shooters. (Apr. 3, 2015; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Mike Lang)

The Sarasota County Parks Department is proposing to install baffles at the popular rifle/pistol ranges at Knight’s Trail Park, which are open to the public. Critics say the changes are unnecessary, expensive and will result in an increase of ambient noise for the shooters. (Apr. 3, 2015; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Mike Lang)

courses, which are about to be expanded, might be struck by an errant round.

Baffles are designed to prevent a shooter standing at the firing line from being able to shoot over the berm.

I know of another way to insure shooters use proper muzzle discipline. They’re called range safety officers, and they’re much cheaper than baffles.

It had been years since I shot at a baffled range — the last time was a horrible experience at a public range in Delaware — so I asked the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for a tour of their facility, which is baffled by wooden 2-inch-by-3-inches, laminated together. There also are vertical wooden supporting posts scattered throughout the range.

The county gave the range to the sheriff’s office decades ago, with

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office training range was baffled when the county gave the facility to the sheriff's office. Baffles can be made out of wood or concrete and wood, and are designed to stop stray rounds from leaving the range. (Apr. 3, 2015; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Mike Lang)

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office training range was baffled when the county gave the facility to the sheriff’s office. Baffles can be made out of wood or concrete and wood, and are designed to stop stray rounds from leaving the range. (Apr. 3, 2015; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Mike Lang)

the baffles already installed. They weren’t something the rangemaster specifically requested.

Even though we didn’t shoot during the tour, there were shooters on nearby ranges. That was more than enough for me.

The baffles created an echo chamber of sorts. Sound from the nearby shooters reverberated around the baffled range, even though the shooters weren’t actually inside.

To be clear, the public ranges would need fewer baffles, since civilian shooters fire from a fixed position. The deputies shoot from different distances at the sheriff’s range.

Still, a baffled range amplifies the noise of gunfire by keeping some of the sound inside, rather than allowing it to dissipate naturally.

If baffles are installed at the public ranges, it will not be a pleasant shooting experience. It’s far too loud. Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way to be more careful with ambient noise, in order to safeguard what little hearing I have left.

Noise isn’t the only concern. Getting a cost estimate from the Parks Department has not been easy.

In an email, county parks director Carolyn Brown sent to Bill Cline, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s section leader for public shooting ranges last November, Brown calculated it would only cost $90,000 to baffle the rifle range and $125,000 to install baffles on the pistol range.

“Does that seem appropriate? $215,000?” she asked the FWC official.

It appears Brown’s estimate was a bit low.

In January, a professional range engineer from Jacksonville provided a much higher figure.

“We estimate at a planning stage your construction cost to be $541,000,” wrote Clark Vargas, president of C. Vargas & Associates Ltd.

Vargas also pointed out that his firm’s fee for its engineering services would be 5.14 percent of the construction cost, which he said are “standard engineering fees.”

If this proposal goes through, I doubt the final cost will be anything close to Vargas’ initial estimate, because county projects have a habit of exceeding their budgets.

Let’s review: The Parks Department wants to spend more than a half-million taxpayer dollars to “fix” a “problem” that may not actually exist.

This “problem,” if in fact it does exist, could be solved much easier and far cheaper by their own range safety officers.

The “fix” will create more noise and add an echo effect to a popular public range.

And the actual cost to taxpayers has yet to be determined?

I guess if you’re a government bureaucrat this makes perfect sense.

They should just leave the range alone.

If we don’t run into each other at the range, you can reach me at (941) 361-4975, by email at lee.williams@heraldtribune.com or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can also follow me on social media at www.facebook.com/TheGunWriter or www.Twitter.com/ht_gunwriter

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

5 Comments

  1. Jim Bencivenga on

    Lee, excellent overview of what we may be facing at Knights trail.
    Couple of follow up questions:
    1.Why any baffles over pistol range? Certainly the bullets from a hand gun can’t carry as far as the concern of the county officials about rifles suggest.
    2. The range will be closed at the end of this month for lead reclamation. Does the county make any money on the lead reclamation? If it does, what does the county do with the money? Improve the range or just deposit any funds into a general county account?
    3. The county already pays for range insurance – which is covered by the range fee shooters already pay. Wouldn’t it make sense to see what increase in insurance costs would be with the range as it is without the baffles and the new sports clay filed established. Insurance companies like business, but no insurance company would incur undo risks. If no insurance company would insure the Knights trail without the baffles then we citizens would have a 3rd party, disinterested but professional evaluation of the need for baffles. I for one would feel better with knowing that before the baffles were installed.

  2. Poorly designed baffles will increase the noise. A little bit of good engineering would fix that problem. There is already a lot of acoustic engineering that goes into things like stadium, high-rises, and urban planing to cut down on noise pollution and echoing. Designing a baffle system that prevents rounds from escaping the shooting range without much effect on sound is something that should be embraced.

    I’ve seen too many gun ranges shut down because of protests or petitions by local residents. If we want to keep outdoor ranges operating, we need to convince the locals that we are not a threat to their safety, and installing baffles is a good way to prove that. I’m afraid resisting this will lead to the bigger loss of a publicly available range.

    • Jim Bencivenga on

      J
      Good points all. And I would affirm what you suggest doing. But we should keep in mind, there are no neighbors other than a trap and skeet club – safe to assume pro 2nd amendment folks. The baffles are expensive and if there isn’t a danger – that’s why I called for an insurance company to verify the danger in my post below – the money spent on baffles would be used to have the range open an extra day of the week, especially in season. One extra day a week, say a Monday, could have special bays set aside for a parent who wants to bring a youngster there for training and practice when the range wouldn’t be too crowded.

  3. I think the biggest mistake 99% of us make!–{{IS!!}} we don*t think out of the BOX!–as our society has taught US to think with-in the Box!–note!! the only stupid question?–IS! an Un-Anasked one!

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