Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Map of Clark County Shooting Complex
11357 North Decatur Blvd., Las Vegas
Clark County is finding more competition in, perhaps, the unlikeliest of endeavors for a governmental agency — shooting ranges.
In the past year, five indoor shooting ranges with combined space nearing 200,000 square feet have come before the Clark County Planning Commission for approval, most of them close to the Las Vegas Strip.
That number doesn’t include a Beretta store/indoor range proposed for the Palazzo. Nor does it include the Strip Gun Club (whose website ad says “Experience the Ultimate Bang”), opening next month near the Stratosphere north of Sahara Avenue.
How might all those shooting ranges hurt or help the Clark County Shooting Complex, 11357 N. Decatur Blvd., a nearly 30-mile drive north of the Strip?
Commissioner Tom Collins said he believes the gravitational draw of all those shooting ranges will benefit, rather than subtract, from one another. At least he doesn’t expect any harm will come to the county’s "Cadillac of shooting ranges" from the competition.
“It’s just like franchise row from way back,” he said. “First, you’d get a Kentucky Fried Chicken, then a Taco Bell, next to that, a Pizza Hut and a Burger King. Fast-food places would collect together in the '60s and '70s. They added synergy. Putting them real close was better for them.”
He sees the same thing with shooting ranges. Instead of traveling to Las Vegas to spend time shooting a round of golf at different courses, tourists will come to sample from the different machine guns offered at various shooting ranges.
Federal dollars collected from the sale of public land in Clark County helped build the Clark County Shooting Complex. During the boom times here, developers couldn’t get enough land and the money poured in from the sale of federal lands. Part of that money went to Clark County. Because most of the revenue had to be used on parks, $64 million has been spent on the Clark County Shooting Complex, which is on 2,880 acres north of Tule Springs in the northernmost part of the valley. The complex is far from done, with another $3 million currently being spent to build a facility for shooting clay pigeons.
Though locally celebrated when Congress designated the acreage for a shooting range in 2002, the “shooting park,” as it once was called, gathered growing criticism when the economy tanked in 2008.
In 2010, Commissioner Steve Sisolak assailed the fact that the county owned a shooting range and competed against private ranges. It didn't help that the county range wasn’t taking in enough money to cover expenses. The county planned not to make money for three years after opening in late 2009; it was to be subsidized by about $1 million per year.
When the recession hit and county departments scrounged for every dollar, however, the shooting range was criticized for taking money from funds that supported other programs. So the shooting range went through a series of changes, including several layoffs and a renewed focus on marketing.
The range’s fiscal fortunes appear to be improving.
A June 2012 report on the shooting range’s finances show it nearing the break-even mark. Revenue increased between fiscal year 2011 and 2012 by almost $400,000 while expenses dropped by more than $200,000. By the end of fiscal 2012, the county had lost $284,000; that compared with a loss of $857,000 in fiscal 2011.
Collins expects the addition of the $3 million clay pigeon facility to help the range break even.
“It’s getting busier as we let it run more like a business and as word’s getting out that it’s a great place to go,” he said.
Sisolak also believes all the shooting ranges can succeed. He still isn’t in favor of the county operating a business that competes against private industry, however.
“I’m supportive of entrepreneurs risking their own money and time, but we, as a public entity, don’t have to worry about breaking even,” he said. “If we were a private shooting range, we wouldn’t even be in business.”
If he had his druthers, that’s how Bob Irwin, operator for almost three decades of The Gun Store, would have it. He doesn’t like that the county competes against private industry. Now with all the indoor shooting ranges popping up, he wonders how they’re all going to survive.
“It’s a good business because it’s something (tourists) can do that’s a side trip, not gambling-related,” said Irwin, who is running this fall for the state Assembly. “It’s the same reason they’re building the Ferris wheels and they have flights to the Grand Canyon. We market an amusement park because that’s what we really are.”
Irwin said he now competes against seven indoor shooting ranges, many of which have hired his former employees and run advertisements similar to his. While he sees the virtue of competition, he also sees the potential fallout.
“At some point, we will become oversaturated and we will choke each other to death,” he said.