In response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 19 updated guidance to help control the spread of COVID-19, the Game Commission closed its public shooting ranges.
Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans said, ”We know the ranges are popular, and we know this announcement will cause disappointment among those who use these ranges. But our No. 1 priority, at this time, is public health. So we are encouraging people to stay home and heed all state and federal safety precautions.”
The Game Commission has 31 shooting ranges. The greatest number of PGC shooting ranges are situated in the northwest (3), southwest (10), northeast (8), and southeastern (5) areas of the state. The north-central has (3) and the south-central region (2). Currently one range is closed for maintenance and another was closed for other reasons.
The Commission’s public ranges are popular gathering places for shooters to hone their skills. And at times they can become very crowded. Therefore they represent a potential risk to the spread of COVID-19.
PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans said, “We encourage everyone to continue to take precautionary measures during this time and to continue to be safe and responsible as we get through the next several weeks together.”
But you can bet those who enjoy shooting will not be putting their firearms away anytime soon. With that being noted, what are the options?
Local gun clubs here and across the state are handling the shooting range situation on an individual basis.
Rod and Gun Clubs and Sportsmen’s organizations that are membership driven can -- within the social distancing guidelines -- set their own rules.
Facilities that maintain a headquarters or clubhouse in conjunction with their own range(s) are handling things differently.
A number of clubs have temporarily closed their entire facilities until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
In other cases the buildings associated with the shooting range are placed off limits. However the shooting range itself is open for use as long as social distancing is maintained.
In the case of ranges established and situated on private property, they can be used. Again, the use must fall within the social distancing guidelines. For those who want to properly construct your own shooting range, simply google, “How to properly construct an outdoor shooting range.” There are many types to choose from.
Another note of interest is that Gov. Wolf ordered firearms dealers to close. However that has changed.
Under the order closing “non-life-sustaining”, an exception was added in the case of firearms dealers, but only “on a limited basis to complete only the portion of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law”.
This came after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a gun shop that challenged Gov. Wolf’s authority to close businesses determined to be “non-life-sustaining”. The lawsuit claimed Wolf’s edict violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms and other constitutional rights.
Since the closure was lifted, a number of gun shops that were surveyed have decided to remain closed, while others opted to remain open, some by appointment only.
Those that choose to remain open report brisk sales of just about everything shooting related. This was also reflected in background checks for firearms.
The March 2020 background checks for firearms purchases, as represented by FBI NICS data, increased 80% compared to March 2019. This resulted in the highest month of NICS firearm checks in the history of the program.
The dramatic increase, based on retailer accounts, can be attributed to social and economic uncertainty associated with COVID-19.
Figures indicted firearm sales were already on a growth curve before the events of February and March ever began.
According to industry feedback, many of the sales were to first-time firearm buyers. The increase in firearm sales actually began in mid-2019.
While the PA Game Commission shooting ranges are closed, for the time being, other shooting facilities experience an uptick in shooting activity across the region and throughout the state.
Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors email is GWOutdoors@comcast.net.