Last October, I shared news of a suddenly controversial gun range in the basement of the Lincoln Elementary School in Hibbing. After efforts to keep the range compliant with safety concerns, it now appears that lead contamination may doom the facility.
For sixty years the Lincoln, originally a middle school, featured an underground gun range that was used without incident for student gun safety training and by community gun clubs. However, late last year the school board was pressed to address community concerns about the gun range.
At first it appeared to be an argument about how appropriate it was for there to be a gun range in an elementary school. This being Northern Minnesota, the argument naturally tilted toward keeping the gun range. The school board planned to allow the Hibbing Gun Club to continue using the range with some added safety provisions.
However, that trial plan is already void, according to this Jan. 22, 2017 Tony Potter story in the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A surprise OSHA inspection this month found elevated lead amounts throughout the gun range area. The school district is facing a fine and must close the range until an expanded investigation is complete.
But the delay won’t mean much. The gun club was already planning to abandon the Lincoln gun range before the OSHA report. And they’re still miffed, as the Daily Tribune story shows:
There has not been a lead-related illness during the 60 years that the gun range has been in operation, said Jerry Runnakko, president of Hibbing Rifle and Pistol Club.
“That beaten horse I spoke of a while back has died,” he said. “Some anonymous, civic-minded citizen filed a complaint with OSHA about the range. I hope this ends the controversy. We lost, the bad guys won.”
Runnakko noted that the gun club had already decided not to accept the school board’s offer of a one-year trial agreement for use of the gun range.
“That decision hadn’t been expressed to the board yet when the OSHA news erupted,” he said.
The first time I heard about this story, I suspected lead was the issue all along. My employer, Hibbing Community College, maintains a gun range as part of our law enforcement training academy. Among the more expensive elements of keeping a stocked gun range: the cost of ammunition and the need for regular lead abatement. On both sides of the equation: lead.
HCC pays a pretty penny every year to properly remove the lead from its gun range.
Lead affects people slowly over time. Without proper mitigation, the effects of lead in the atmosphere eventually poisons people. This is true even if the lead hasn’t poisoned anyone yet.
Since this is an *elementary school* first, the liability risk alone gives the district little choice.
Mitigating the lead in the gun range and reopening the gun range would be costly. Based on the comments from the gun club president, it would appear this is curtains for the suddenly controversial gun range at Lincoln Elementary.