By Jim Stoddard of Liberal
My name is Jim Stoddard. I am the president of the Southwest Kansas Rifle & Pistol Club here in Liberal, and I have a story to tell you.
Many years ago, there became awareness in the town of Liberal that a safe and controllable place to practice shooting sports was necessary. An association was formed, a plan was developed, and a grant was received from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Outdoor Recreation.
For several years, the range was operated under the watch of the Liberal Recreational Shooting Range Authority of Liberal, which was made up of representatives of all the clubs who used the range.
These included Southwest Kansas Rifle & Pistol Club Inc., The Liberal Gun Club (trap and skeet), The Seward County Bow Hunters Inc. (archery) and Seward County Hunter Safety Instructors.
By the time the contract between the City of Liberal and this Range Authority had expired, the Liberal Gun Club and the Southwest Kansas Rifle & Pistol Club were the only active clubs.
The Liberal Gun Club eventually found an area on which they could build a better range and left the old range, and the property was sold.
The Southwest Kansas Rifle & Pistol Club (SWKRPC) were left on the poorly designed and rarely maintained range. Time has passed, and the SWKRPC has maintained the range, made improvements and set up a system for range management.
The range is currently used by SWKRPC, Seward County Community College, Seward County Sheriff’s Department, Liberal Police Department and various concealed carry course and firearms education instructors.
There are public shooting events hosted by SWKRPC most weekends. All of these entities use the range with no conflicts because there is a system in place that works.
Recently, the SWKRPC was in the process of developing plans for a new, larger range that would accommodate larger events, as well as provide an area for specialized training. As a part of this planning, we asked for input from the other entities that use the range and located an area on city property that was not only excellent for our needs but was not slated for development, according to the city.
We met with Liberal Police Chief Al Sill with the goal of developing a range that would suit both our needs and incorporate features that the police would need in a shared range that would be beneficial to all invested parties.
We wanted to make sure City Manager Mark Hall was kept informed of what we were going to ask the city commission for, and so we called to set up a meeting.
At this meeting, we were informed that the land we had been told there were no future plans for was now going to be used. We were also informed that he had received a call from an individual about club membership being a requirement to use a public range; this has never been the case.
We, as a club, offer members access by way of a combination lock that gives members access to the range without hassle. The city has in the past had a key available to the public for use of the range. Over time, the keys have been duplicated and passed around so that no one had any idea who was using or abusing the range, and the range was badly mistreated.
The locks are still on the gate, but apparently, all of the keys have been lost due to mismanagement by the city.
People began joining the club because it was the only way to get access, not because it was required.
SWKRPC has cleaned up the range and controls the actions of its members because we felt a responsibility to take care of what we had. We have not tried to exclude anyone; actually we have tried to increase public access by making all of our events open to the general public – a fact which has been regularly published in the newspaper.
We have developed several shooting programs that continue to grow. We have provided much needed firearms safety education through our, free to the public, Gals ‘N’ Guns program that has helped many area women learn how to safely use and care for their firearms.
Who knows, we may save a life here and there.
We are doing good things for the City of Liberal. No matter what your opinion of firearms, I think we all want to see people freely participate in activities in our town and bringing people into town is certainly good for our local economy.
You may be asking yourself why I would be telling you all this. Here it is.
We began hearing rumors that the city was planning to take away our access to the shooting range, so I called the city manager to find out what was going on. At some time, with no input from anyone, the city manager and police chief had a meeting to decide the fate of the Liberal Shooting Range.
They decided they are going to take away the club’s access and put a key at the golf course that can be checked out by an individual for a two-hour time period.
This has been tried many times in the past and has failed miserably each time.
Chief Sill has designed a new plan for the existing range, and with no regard for the usage needs of anyone other than the police department, which makes it almost impossible to continue our most popular events.
The range is also diminished by the fact that almost half of the current range will be completely off limits to anyone but police officers.
SWKRPC was in need of a larger range with more open bays to allow access to more participants; the new plan entirely eliminates the open spaces necessary for both the International Defensive Pistol Association events and the Ruger Rimfire events.
The entire plan is available on our webpage at swkrpc.org, and I encourage you to look it over.
The limitations on access will be very hard for the club to overcome. The purpose of our club is to promote the shooting sports, promote safety and provide activities here in Liberal for those who wish to participate. We are a positive club, with positive aspirations, but we are being punished for the misdirected anger of a few negative people who wouldn’t respect us enough to voice their complaints at our meeting where the membership could take action. This seems unfair to me.
SWKRPC has taken on responsibility to improve our range, our town and our safety. Rather than a thank you and a pat on the back, we are being excluded and betrayed by the city we are working to improve.
If you have lived here long enough, you can probably remember when Liberal was a growing, thriving city with a skating rink, drive-in theater and other sources of entertainment. Most of those are gone now. Our youth are not able to experience the social benefits these places provided.
It bothers me a great deal to hear my daughters beg to go to Guymon or Garden City to shop and play because it is my money going in the pockets of the merchants from another town.
The Southwest Kansas Rifle and Pistol Club is trying to help our city. I would love to hear your comments whether you agree or disagree, and I would like for you to share your opinion with your local city commissioner, as well.
If you have a comment or would like to know more about upcoming events, you can reach us at
, or find us on Facebook. To see a schedule and description of activities visit swkrpc.org