Column: Character assassination by Manatee Gun Club’s board

In this Herald-Tribune file photo, Gene Pitts, center, then-president of Manatee Gun and Archery Club, speaks to Lee Williams, left, and Mike Young, right, about the group's efforts to build a one mile rifle range during a segment of GunWriterTV in October 2015. The club has named it's 1000 yard rifle range in honor of Pitts. STAFF PHOTO / MIKE LANG

In this Herald-Tribune file photo, Gene Pitts, center, then-president of Manatee Gun and Archery Club, speaks to Lee Williams, left, and Mike Young, right, about the group’s efforts to build a one mile rifle range during a segment of GunWriterTV in October 2015. The club has named it’s 1000 yard rifle range in honor of Pitts. STAFF PHOTO / MIKE LANG

The ongoing foolishness at the Manatee Gun and Archery Club has reached a horrific new low.

It seems the club’s executive committee wasn’t content to just force out their longtime manager Gene Pitts.

Now, they want to assassinate his character, since they view him and his legion of supporters as a threat to their positions.

I was stunned — quite literally — when I read a press release issued last week by the club’s new $3,500-per-month PR manager, James Judge.

The press release indicts Gene for all types of trumped-up crimes and bad acts.

Of course, the release didn’t come from a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor. It was written by Judge and Ron Chapman, a health care attorney who was hired by the board’s executive committee to conduct an audit, but who now seems to be running the place.

Of course, the local media pounced on the “missing guns” story and further indicted Gene, even though no one with a badge in their billfold has said anyone did anything wrong.

The most ludicrous? A Bay News 9 story, in which Judge said: “The last thing in the world we want to happen is for these guns to get in the wrong hands and something bad to happen.”


Seventy-five-year-old M1 Garands bought through the Civilian Marksmanship Program at Camp Perry and then sold to members of a private gun club are the most sought after weapon of today’s street hoodlum.

The reporter identified Judge as the club’s “spokesman,” which was an interesting choice of title. Perhaps “paid spokesman” would have been more accurate. After all, Judge hadn’t even been to the club until he was hired just a few short months ago by the nervous executive committee. I doubt he’s even a member.

I wasn’t the only one surprised by the press release.

It raised a few eyebrows at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, too.

You see, just one day after Chapman and a couple board members brought their “allegations” to the sheriff’s office, they told reporters how the detectives were “investigating” the missing guns.

Although it’s a great way to pump up the seriousness of their story, from what I’m told it might be a bit strong.

Many readers have asked why the board, their attorney and their “spokesman” are so desperate to demonize Gene, especially since he devoted 40 years of his life to the club and its membership.

The answer is simple. They have to demonize him before March, when the club is scheduled to hold its next annual elections. If they don’t, the current board members will likely be replaced because of the shoddy way they’ve treated Gene, and Chapman and Judge will both be looking for new groups to torment.

The executive committee may not go gracefully. I’ve been told they may try to postpone the annual elections until after they’ve had a chance to consolidate power.

While I wouldn’t be surprised by the move, it would certainly be a kill-shot for the club.

— If we don’t run into each other at the range, you can reach me at (941) 284-8553, by email or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You also can follow me on social media at or or watch us on our new YouTube Channel.


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 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Pingback: Column: Character assassination by Manatee Gun Club’s board - 2nd Amendment Right

  2. Another great article Lee. I used (note the term used) to take my grand kids to the Manatee Gun Club to teach them how to shoot. Mostly with a Ruger 1022 but a few other things as well, including a Garand that I acquired through the CMP. Gene is a great guy and always had interesting stories for my grand kids, who loved to talk with Gene. So Gene sold some WWII & Korean War M1 Garands. So does the CMP where Gene, and many of us got them. M1 Garands are collected by our hero-veterans and shot at shooting matches, including places like Camp Perry. You can go through decades of probable cause affidavits from arrests in Sarasota County. I would like to see even one PCA showing someone used a Garand in a crime of any nature. As to the Bay News 9 article, the only way an M1 Garand will get into the wrong hands is if a burglar steals one.

    Gene is a great guy. This is how Gene is thanked for 40 years with the club? The clubs character assassination by the gun club is just evil. Why does a gun club need a PR manager and an attorney? Because they are screwed up. I have not heard of any other gun club hiring a public relations person. You either have a gun club worth going to or not. This one has moved over to the not catagory. I won’t be going back to the Manatee Gun Club for any more shooting.

    • Thanks, Dave.

      You’re certainly not alone in your unofficial boycott of the place. I’m hearing that from a lot of folks.

      I just hope the membership can put things right, and soon. It’s a great facility.

      And I’ve never seen a Garand used in a crime — ever. Although, like you, I’ve seen them used by a hell of a lot of heroes.

      Thanks for reading, Dave.

  3. Lee,
    How do the ordinary average club members fight back against an executive committee & cronies that insist on behind-closed-door dealings, manipulation of facts and lies to suit their agenda? Does the EC not report to an elected board?… or are they one in the same?

    I don’t know if Gene ever did anything unethical or intentionally illegal… it seems unlikely though. If he did, it still should have been handled per the rules of the club and not as insanely as it has been. This debacle reads more “Dallas” than it does an internal matter of a private club…

    Can you help?

    • I’m hearing more than a few rumblings of lawsuits. For the sake of the club, I hope it doesn’t get to that.

  4. The March annual meeting will be the litmus test, any reschedule of such will create a cat5 scat storm. Secret meetings, lawyers, hire a liars and such are sure indications of a outlaw takedown and takeover of the club. Thanks Lee, for a light of truth in this sorry mess.

  5. Come to the Gun Club meeting and show your support for Gunny. #IStandWithGunny
    This Thursday, Jan., 21, the meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the Cabrini Center. The Cabrini Center is located right behind St.Frances Cabrini Church off 301 by the flashing yellow light by 675 and down the street from the Methodist church.
    The address is 12001 69th St.E. Parrish, FL 34219.

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