By John Clayton
There is a tired cliché that newspaper writers often use around election time, pointing out that political campaign signs have sprouted up overnight like mushrooms after a spring rain. I would never say such a thing, but it did come to mind last week while I was driving through upper Montgomery County into Frederick County, and I encountered an explosion of shiny new signs protesting a proposed shooting range near Sugarloaf Mountain. Cliché alert: The proponents of this idea have kicked up a real hornets’ nest (actually, that was more of a hyperbole, but I’m sure the editor will let it slide).
Our front page story by Rande Davis presents the facts and events, and the Sugarloaf Citizens’ Association’s newsletter ad forcefully advocates against the range. I recommend both for your consideration and won’t attempt to build onto them here. What has impressed me is the explosion, like stinkbugs on tomatoes in a dewy garden on a Sunday morning, of outrage and protest in such a short time. The public hearing was overrun, social media is crackling like cicada shells underfoot on a city sidewalk, and every horse farm proprietor in sight has been quoted on TV news or in a newspaper.
Frankly, when I first heard about this, I was incredulous, as in, “A shooting range? What’s next? Parachute training?” There’s just no telling what the next challenge will be, and recreational challenges, like churches, country inns, camps for kids, and even gun ranges are legitimate pursuits that have merit and in many cases need wide open spaces, or just space in less expensive areas, to pursue their activities; however, when that activity changes the experience of the surrounding resources for others, or when it represents a foot in the door for similar pursuits in the future as a dangerous precedent, it’s great to see organizations and individuals step up so boldly.
I’m sure many anti-gun activists love the outcry, but there’s nothing anti-gun about this vigorous response. I was initially concerned about the range garnering some support merely as a reaction against anything that sounded like it was an attack on legitimate gunplay, but I think that momentary thought was misguided. I did see one Facebook post from someone who traced a path from resisting the range to being available to the military to not supporting those who protect our gun rights, so I suppose if one tries hard enough, any issue is only two or three degrees away from Support the Troops. Nice try, fella. I happen to think a Sugarloaf shooting range makes it more likely that Virginia shooters will lobby for a new bridge across the Potomac into the Ag Reserve to get there faster. Take that.
The same concern remains with any threat to open land, scenic vistas, country roads, a dark sky at night, and relative peace and quiet. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and it doesn’t come back.