Agency wants to shoot down gun club

  • "Continuing Education" with La Salle Extension University

    Hector Acuna
 

TUCSON, Ariz. - Forest Service officials have long dreamed of shutting down the Tucson Rod and Gun Club's shooting range, but when they tried to silence the gunfire in March, they found themselves in the club's crosshairs.

The shooting range, which the gun club has leased from the Forest Service since the early 1950s, skirts the edge of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area just north of Tucson. The canyon draws over 1 million hikers, picnickers, backpackers, cyclists, sightseers and climbers annually. Many say they're tired of hearing gun shots.

The shooting is also a concern for nearby landowners. "I have a 6-year-old," says Mark Evers. "Walking behind our house, we've had bullets zing over our heads."

The county voted in a recent bond initiative to fund a new shooting range in a safer location. But when the Forest Service shut down the Sabino Canyon range at the recommendation of safety inspector Glen Shumsky, the Tucson Rod and Gun Club sued. Their main complaint: Shumsky's credentials were bogus.

Shumsky claimed to have completed coursework "beyond the master's level" at Montana State University, Texas A&M, the University of Washington and the University of Arizona. But as he'd later reveal, he never attended any of these schools. His "continuing education" consisted of attending sanitarian conferences hosted by the various universities.

Shumsky's most impressive academic achievement seemed to be a law degree from La Salle Extension University, a correspondence school famous for the "Look Who's Smiling Now!" ads it used to run in comics and on matchbooks.

The Forest Service had paid Shumsky $25,000 to complete the safety study, then put him on the payroll to testify as a witness at $100 an hour, up to a total of $17,000.

But once on the stand, Shumsky wilted before gun club attorney Dave Hardy. By the time Hardy was finished exposing Shumsky's imaginative résumé, U.S. District Court Judge John Roll impeached the inspector as an expert witness.

But whether or not Shumsky's credentials were valid, the study was right on the mark, said the Forest Service's Tom Quinn, chief ranger of the Santa Catalina Ranger District. "Even the (gun club's) NRA (National Rifle Association) expert acknowledged that bullets were leaving National Forest land and entering onto private land," he said.

While the lawsuit is pending, the Tucson Rod and Gun Club has called in some big guns. Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Larry Craig of Idaho have written a letter to Forest Service chief Michael Dombeck, asking him to review the Forest Service's actions. The NRA, Safari Club International and other hunting groups have already convinced Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska to investigate the gun club's closure.

"We believe the Forest Service intends to close shooting ranges nationwide, and we're the test case," says Todd Rathner, general manager of the Tucson range.

Meanwhile, Judge Roll has upheld a ban on shooting at the range, now open for archery practice only.

Jim Nintzel is senior editor of the Tucson Weekly. Greg Hanscom is HCN's assistant editor.