Owner of Monroe gun range says Snohomish County’s fines are unfair

MONROE — The owner of a private gun range says he’s being unfairly singled out by Snohomish County for hosting marksmanship classes that brought him no profit.

In the eyes of county officials, he broke the law by accepting entry fees. They told him to stop or face stiff fines.

Jim Faire halted the classes, but he hasn’t given up the fight. He’s appealing his case to the county hearing examiner next month. This weekend, Faire and his allies are holding a benefit to help pay legal costs.

“It’s selective enforcement,” he said.

County officials began investigating in December after a neighbor complained about target shooting at Faire’s property on Ben Howard Road. Faire said the marksmanship classes began in 2006, but that he and his brother have been shooting at the property since the 1960s.

Code-enforcement officials said he was allowed to shoot as long as it remained private. They closed the original file in March.

“I was under the understanding that everything was OK,” Faire said.

In April, county officials re-opened the file after learning about a Web site advertising monthly marksmanship classes at Faire’s property. Participants paid $50 for one day or $80 for two days.

Meanwhile, the range earlier this year caught the attention of federal authorities. In court papers filed in May, an FBI agent said Faire’s range was known as the “Militia Training Center.” He described it as being frequented by members of anti-government groups. The papers were filed in support of federal weapons charges against a felon with a history of anti-government activism.

Faire said the “Militia Training Center” name was an inside joke. The only training events taking place were Appleseed shoots affiliated with the Morehead, Ky.-based Revolutionary War Veterans Association.

The group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes firearms training and the accomplishments of American soldiers in the War of Independence.

Entry fees collected for Appleseed shoots only covered costs, Faire said. Expert firearms instructors volunteered teaching time. The largest number of people that ever attended was 17.

In the county’s eyes, the key issue was that money changed hands, not the lack of profit.

“If you’re charging people to come to your property, then it’s commercial,” county inspection and enforcement manager Mike McCrary said.

On June 4, county inspectors gave Faire a violation notice. It accused him of operating a commercial shooting range and of excavating more than 100 cubic yards of dirt to create a berm. Two additional alleged violations applied because the berm is in the Skykomish River floodway.

The maximum penalty per violation was $25,000. Because the area is considered a rural shoreline, each fine could triple.

Faire said he fears total fines could top $200,000.

Such a high penalty would be far-fetched, McCrary said. No fine will apply if Faire stops holding the classes and gets the right permits for the berm, he said.

“It’s highly unlikely that it could ever get to that as long as he is cooperating and working with us,” he said.

Faire said he would like to see that in writing. His appeal before a county hearing examiner is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 17.

A benefit for his legal expenses and supportive conservative political groups is scheduled from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Normanna Hall Lodge, 2725 Oakes Ave. in Everett. The James Faire Defense Page, www.jefferson walk.org, advertises dancing, live music and a gun auction.

It also suggests that Faire is the focus of a possible conspiracy involving county officials, federal agents and the news media.

Rural shooting ranges are in danger of closing throughout the country as urban and suburban growth pushes closer, according to the National Rifle Association.

“This is something that we are hearing around the country, particularly … in the western U.S.,” NRA spokeswoman Alexa Fritts said.

Most states have laws to protect existing ranges as neighborhoods grow around them, Fritts said. Washington is one of the few states that doesn’t. She said former governors Mike Lowry and Gary Locke both vetoed range-protection bills.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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