Gun club blinks on NRA membership

City’s eviction threat hits mark

Days after being threatened with eviction by the city of Durango, the Durango Gun Club, a nonprofit, is dropping its new requirement that each of its 700 members join the National Rifle Association.

In a letter from Durango Gun Club President John Malarsie delivered by hand to the city Wednesday, Malarsie writes that the club “will voluntarily suspend this membership requirement.”

City Manager Ron LeBlanc said, “We told them either to stop or get evicted – I think that’s pretty clear.”

Though the Durango Gun Club is private, it has leased its Florida Road indoor shooting range from the city since 1963 – at no charge. Its other facility, an outdoor range near Bodo Industrial Park, is on property leased from La Plata County for $1 a year.

After The Durango Herald first reported the club’s December decision to become a “100 percent NRA” club last week, the city threatened the club with eviction March 13 after public uproar that the city and county governments effectively were subsidizing political speech.

In his letter to the city, Malarsie writes it was never the club’s “intention or purpose to promote or advance what you describe as the NRA’s extreme political agenda,” but simply to qualify for generous NRA grants that might finance improvements to the club’s ranges.

He writes that the club “has always strived to provide its members and the community with opportunities for individuals, families, competitive shooters, law enforcement training, 4-H activities, hunter safety, gun safety and proficiency.”

Eviction

For more than a half-century, in Durango and La Plata County, the Durango Gun Club has served as a community institution used by people of all political persuasions. But LeBlanc said the city’s threat to evict the club because of its NRA-membership requirement had moved residents to contact him by phone and email, often stopping him in the street, “overwhelmingly to express their support of what we did.”

The city’s threat to evict also received wide attention from the news media. Newspapers from Denver to New York have run the story, and LeBlanc said he’d even been contacted by an Al Jazeera TV news team based in Denver.

After the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last year, the NRA often deflected criticism that its platform was politically extreme by invoking its 4 million membership.

LeBlanc said he and Durango city councilors are aware of the NRA’s clout, but do not fear repercussions.

“Do you think the NRA is going to act out and have some sort of repudiation for city officials? Yes, that’s always a risk – that’s their modus operandi. But we’re not going to back down or not do the right thing because of that,” he said.

Club

The Durango Gun Club has provided generations of Durangoans with gun-safety lessons. The club allows local law enforcement to practice shooting for free at its ranges. Before news of the club’s NRA requirement broke, Durango Parks & Recreation Director Cathy Metz described the club as a wonderful tenant. And as in many volunteer organizations, a handful of dedicated members do the vast majority of the work – the cleaning, the meetings, the paperwork – that keeps the club running.

Last year, the NRA urged the recall of state Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, after McLachlan voted in favor of limiting ammunition clips.

Yet the Durango Gun Club’s leadership initially seemed unaware that by mandating NRA membership, the club was walking into the political equivalent of an electrified fence.

Interviewed in late February, the club’s vice president, Tim Gwynn, asked whether the Herald’s calling about the club’s NRA policy was a joke.

In his letter, Malarsie said, “Although additional funding would be a welcome resource for the local ranges,” the club foremost wants to continue its “long history of working with the City.”

Through the years, the club “has produced world and national champions, Olympic hopefuls and state champions. The club simply wants to continue in this tradition as a partner with the city and does not wish to jeopardize any of these programs,” he said.

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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