“Notice: You are in a school safety zone.” Beginning with a sign in the parking lot, the Shooting Sports Education Center at Georgia Southern University emphasizes rules about who can shoot and how weapons are carried. The facility for indoor firearms shooting and archery is now open to those GSU students and members of the public who comply.
Built at a cost of $5.8 million, the center is on campus near Veterans Memorial Parkway and is part of the university. But “In Partnership with Georgia Department of Natural Resources” appears prominently on the entrance sign at Old Register Road after the DNR supplied $3.3 million toward the center’s construction.
Because of the DNR’s involvement, the center is for the public, not just GSU students. But students such as David Tullius, 21, vice president of the Shooting Sports Club at Georgia Southern, are excited to see it open.
“We’re energized about it,” Tullius said. “We’ve been waiting for it for as long as it’s been announced, and I think it will definitely help us get new members, but also, the people that we already have will have a new place that’s much closer that they’re able to use.”
Founded about a year ago, the Shooting Sports Club now has about 30 members, he said.
To use one of the 16 lanes on the firearms range, or one of the 16 lanes of the archery range in its huge, separate room, requires either becoming an “approved user” or registering for one of the center’s introductory courses. Tullius, a senior from Pittsburgh, went through the application process Wednesday for becoming an approved user.
After filling out the form, watching the range safety video, and taking a written test, he was escorted onto the firing range by a range official, retired GSU Police Chief Mike Russell. Tullius loaded a specially equipped handgun with dummy rounds. He then took aim and “shot” a target, positioned at a prescribed distance on the overhead retrieval rail, with the gun’s only real ammo, a laser dot.
All this was done so Russell could see that the applicant knew how to handle the weapon. Tullius, who plans to use the center with his own firearms rather than as part of a class, is now awaiting a background check. Only then will he be allowed on the course with a real gun.
Any firearms must be brought into the center unloaded and in a closed case, and all bows must be unstrung or in a case, signs warn. Individuals visiting the center to apply to become approved users are advised not to bring their weapons with them yet.
NCAA rifles, club archery
The 30,000-square-foot facility includes two classrooms, in addition to the shooting ranges. A press release from GSU Director of Communications Jennifer Wise states that the center provides much-needed indoor space for Georgia Southern’s NCAA women’s varsity rifle team and championship-winning archery club team. They can practice and host competitions with seating for visitors.
“The educational experiences in the shooting sports we will be able to provide for our students, community and region through this facility may be the only time an individual will have the opportunity for such an experience,” Gene Sherry, executive director of Georgia Southern’s Campus Recreation and Intramurals, said in the news release. “In addition, this resource will allow many individuals to participate and hone their skills in the very popular American pastime of recreational target shooting.”
Visible from the lobby through thick glass windows that deaden the sound of gunfire, the firearms range is divided into two bays with eight lanes each. Eight of the lanes are equipped with turning targets, which the press release describes as “ideal for law enforcement training.”
The press release also states that the target system as identical to that used in the 2012 London Olympics and that the ventilation system, designed for indoor firing ranges, produces the air turnover rate needed “to all but eliminate exposure to airborne lead.”
One long wall of the archery range carries a banner, “Easton Foundations Archery Centers – Affiliated Center.”
The Board of Regents of the University System did not fund the center’s construction. Besides the DNR grant, private donations to the university and support from the Easton Sports Development Foundation, the Archery Trade Association and the city of Statesboro paid for the facility. The city committed $500,000 from the hotel-motel tax.
DNR pays, stays
Even the DNR’s share of the funding was not from state taxes. Instead, the source was part of Georgia’s share in federal Wildlife Restoration funds, said Ted Will, assistant chief of the Game Management Section in the Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
The Wildlife Restoration Act, in force since 1937, levies excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Different portions of the money go to efforts to restore wildlife species and conserve habitat and for hunter education and shooting range enhancement.
Manufacturers pay the tax, but the cost is passed on to hunters and target shooters.
“The general concept is, it’s a user pay, user benefit program …,” Will said. “I think who is on the bill is the folks who are shooting, and that’s the great thing is that their funds come back to the state for a facility which they could use.”
The DNR has an office inside the center. It will be used by a staff member, already based at the university, who works on hunter education and archery-in-schools programs. The DNR will also use the classrooms for things such as hunter safety classes, Will said.
Rules at the center differ from those at the DNR’s own ranges, which are all outside and not on college campuses.
“This will be the first indoor facility that we have been involved in,” Will said.
Groundbreaking occurred in November 2013. The city of Statesboro advanced its $500,000 share around that time and is paying itself back from hotel-motel tax revenue, said City Finance Director Cindy West and interim City Manager Robert Cheshire.
As with other hotel-motel tax projects, the rationale is for the shooting sports center to bring more visitors to the area, in turn bringing more tourism spending.
“I think it’s going to be a hit,” Cheshire said.
Users will be charged daily fees for archery range use and hourly rates for the firearms range, or can buy an annual pass. Rates are lower for GSU faculty, staff, military, and students not from Georgia Southern, and lowest for GSU students, youth under 18, and law enforcement. Firearms, archery equipment and storage space are available for rent.
The center offers a variety of classes in archery and firearms. The minimum age for archery is 7, with children under age 14 required to be accompanied by an adult. For the firearms range, the minimum age is 10, with users ages 10-17 to be accompanied by an adult approved user and have written parental permission.
An opening ceremony is planned for Oct. 8 at 10:30 a.m.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.