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Neighbors worry about impact of indoor firing range

fr shootingrangeMembers of a tranquil farming community with deep roots in Haywood County fear their way of life will be ruined by a massive indoor shooting range and gun store proposed in their midst.

A group of two dozen people from the Francis Farm community outside Waynesville appeared at the Haywood County commissioners meeting Monday to voice their concerns over the shooting range and present a petition signed by more than 290 opponents.

The large indoor shooting range and gun store would shatter the peaceful, rural lifestyle the tightknit community has known and cherished for generations, according to those who spoke at the commissioners’ meeting.

 “This is not fair to the people who live there. It is not fair to the people who have farmed the land for generations,” said Bruce Bowen, who lives near the tract. “You are talking about changing the nature of a community that goes back centuries. Please. Please don’t let them build it there.”

Another speaker, Danny Higgins, said Francis Farm residents pride themselves on upholding the farming traditions of their ancestors.

“This idea of a shooting range being built in our midst is absurd. Our family has lived on this property for over 150 years,” Higgins said.

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Residents picture throngs of gun enthusiasts loitering in the parking lot day and night, showing off and fondling each other’s weapons. That’s not the kind of environment Josie Rathbone hoped to raise her baby girl in when she bought a house in Francis Farm just a few months ago.

“We have poured my life savings into this property in hopes one day she will inherit this. We want our children to be able to grow up and play outside,” Rathbone said. “Will she be safe outside? Will she even be safe inside?”

Neighbors fear guns will be fired outside, not just inside, since there’s no law against firing guns on private property.

“Some guns enthusiasts will be too excited to show off the guns they have bought,” said Lisa Nelson, whose roots also run deep in Francis Farm. 

Mark Palmer, who still farms the same land his forefathers did for generations before him, can’t imagine working in the fields alongside a shooting range and gun store.

“The people that comes to shoot will not all be honest people,” Palmer said.

But Joel Weaver, an attorney in Waynesville, said he’s looking forward to it for himself, his wife and children to shoot without having to drive to Asheville for an indoor firing range.

“I am strongly in favor of the indoor shooting range. I think there would be a great benefit,” Weaver said.

Jule Morrow, the man behind the gun range proposal, has said he believes there is great demand for an indoor shooting range, both for recreational use and law enforcement training.  The nearest indoor firing ranges currently are in Asheville and Brevard.

Morrow is himself a descendent of the Francis Farm community. His own home is surrounded by 66 acres of family land owned by his mother that’s been passed down through the generations.

But he’s not planning to put the shooting range on his own family land, however, nor near his own house. Instead, he’s placing it among his neighbors half a mile up the road, on property purchased by his mother a year ago.

Morrow said he came up with the idea for a shooting range after a back injury prompted him to rethink his construction career.

The residents of Francis Farm aren’t the only ones who are concerned by the proposal. Numerous residents of Shadow Woods, a nearby mountainside development of 120 property owners, were among the petition signers.

“We are very concerned about the degradation of the farming community that we feel like we are a part of,” said Mary Guthrie, who spoke on behalf of the Shadow Woods Homeowners Association.

Residents are also troubled by the proximity of the firing range to a cemetery, where 600 people are buried.

“I can’t imagine people going to the cemetery to grieve. I think that is an incredible violation of their sanctity,” Guthrie said.

Nelson said there’s a place for shooting ranges, but not in the midst of a peaceful community.

“This is just the wrong piece of property for this to happen on,” Nelson said.

Wade Francis, a descendent of the original Francis Farm settlers, agreed. 

“I would like to see y’all draw an ordinance up that would keep a firing range out on wasteland somewhere. There’s a lot of wasteland in Haywood County. Put it there where it wouldn’t bother anybody,” Francis said.

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