Stephanie Nystrom: Indoor Shooting Ranges Can Cause Elevated Blood Lead Levels and Lead Poisoning.

I am  submitting this document for the public record, to draw your attention to issues involved in changing Kingston’s gun law, and specifically changing it to allow indoor shooting ranges within city limits.  Though my research on this topic is by no means exhaustive, I was able to find enough to raise quite a few red flags with regard to public and employee health and safety, as well as legal disputes that the city should consider.

In a 2014 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report, indoor shooting ranges are identified as a dangerous cause of elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) and lead poisoning.  This is still the case despite new and strict guidelines for range maintenance and public health outreach.  In order to be safe and in compliance with regulations, there is a great deal involved—for the range itself and its employees.   The building must have a sophisticated ventilation system, HEPA filters, strict control of airflow (both within the building and between the building and outside), special training for employees, and regular medical testing of employees to monitor BLLs.  A survey of indoor shooting ranges in Washington State found egregious violations in all these areas: airflow, filters, ventilation, housekeeping, and employee medical surveillance.

Employees also brought lead home with them on their clothes and bodies, which contaminated their homes and families.  Even in facilities that used HEPA filters and changed their filters weekly, there were still lead violations.  The guidelines for air lead levels were established by OSHA in 1978.  To provide safe working conditions, lead levels must be below 50 micrograms per cubic meter.  However, these standards are now considered outdated, because we know more about the dangers of low-level lead exposure.  The California Department of Public Health recommends that OSHA lower permissible levels from 50 μg/m3 to 0.5 – 2.1μg/m3.

The issues regarding lead came to the forefront at an indoor shooting range in the Sacramento/Fresno area of northern California.  Residents in this area actually had problems with two indoor shooting ranges in their region.  In one, a range had a malfunction with its outside air filtration system, and the range vented lead-contaminated air all over a public park and a residential neighborhood.  The city conducted 20 tests on the building between 2006 and 2014 (the facility was closed in 2014), and lead was found in nearly every room in the building; 38 of the 39 samples were above hazardous levels.  The lead levels on the roof were 70 times higher than the state hazard threshold.  Citizens are suing the city because they have elevated BLLs and lead poisoning.  The range may also be a violation of the Hazardous Waste Control Act.

In the other indoor range dispute, it took a 7-hour meeting by the Planning Commission to broker a truce in a 6-month-long fight between an indoor gun range owner and nearby residents.  Residents, who complained about the noise from shooting, had threatened to sue the city; the owner had retaliated with his own lawsuit threat, and the fight had waged since the range’s opening, two years prior.  Before the range had opened (in an area formerly zoned industrial, but which had houses built on it in the 1980s due to the town’s suburban expansion), there was considerable debate over whether having a gun range in a residential area was a good idea.  The City Council had approved the owner’s permit by a 4-1 vote in 2011, over the objections of residents in the neighborhood, and who continued to fight the range.  Citizens argue that the range has devalued their homes, and that their children are too scared by the shooting noise to play outside.  The City Council admitted that they did not have enough experience with a gun range to be able to forsee the problems that could arise, and that they should have learned more before approving the permit.

And finally, one other public health issue must be mentioned—with regard to the guns themselves.  As I understand Mr. Soyer’s proposal (and the way that other indoor shooting ranges operate), there will be a gun store on premises, as well as a gun rental shop—for those who do not have their own firearms.  This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of all in terms of gun violence.  No background check is needed to rent a gun in any range in the United States.  Thus, if someone is unable to purchase a firearm legally, they can easily go to a range to ostensibly rent, and then steal, a gun.  This happened in Vermont in 2015, when a gun range patron with a criminal record rented a gun, shot the instructor, and made off with it.  At a range in Florida, a woman who had been involuntarily institutionalized (which would have made her fail a background check), shot her son and herself with a rented gun.  Also in Florida, a convicted felon on house arrest for a nightclub shooting went to a gun range and was able to rent a gun.  His GPS ankle monitor is clearly visible in the surveillance video from the range.

What I hope you take from this is that there are MANY things to think about with regard to shooting ranges and public health and safety—from lead poisoning and noise complaints to devalued property and guns in unsafe hands.  This should not be a decision that you make lightly.  To simply make a blanket statement (as in Ms. Brown’s amendment) that discharging a firearm within the city limits is illegal, “except in an indoor facility designed and constructed as a shooting range,” leaves quite a bit out.  Not only is it a blatant case of favoritism with regard to one particular business venture, it represents a lack of thorough investigation of the issue.

I respectfully ask you to please not pass this amendment.  If the firearms law of 1978 is in violation of the Second Amendment (which incidentally I do not understand how it can be), then it should indeed be amended so that it is not.  However, to amend a law to allow a particular business to operate in a neighborhood where it is not wanted is unfair and immoral.  It will also open the city up to the potential for lawsuits from citizens whose property is devalued and whose quality of life is compromised, as well as those who will correctly point out that this law is arbitrary and capricious.  Assessing whether a law should be amended or changed should be an issue in and of itself—based on the law’s merit, not what one wealthy property owner wants to do with his building.

Stephanie Nystrom
Kingston, NY.