Rifle range safety 'breached'

COLIN WILLIAMS
Last updated 11:02 21/11/2012

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Upper Hutt Leader

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Safety standards at the Trentham Rifle Range are being regularly breached with competition shooting carried out in high winds and placing "target pullers" at risk, says Mitchell Maxberry, a former National Rifle Association member.

He says there is an "ongoing failure" by the NRA - and the Wellington Rifle Association - to enforce its own range rules and he has detailed his concerns to the army. The defence force leases the land to the NRA.

Under the operating range rules, shooting events are to be halted whenever the wind strength "exceeds 20 minutes of angle at the 1000 yard firing distance, regardless of the firing distance of the time," Mr Maxberry says.

The claimed breaches violate the range licence agreement between the NRA and the army, Mr Maxberry says in communication to the New Zealand Defence Force's Major Marcus Hayes-Jones, the acting Trentham Camp commander.

Mr Maxberry cites examples of strong winds recorded at the range when, he says, shooting continued.

One day last month had a maximum gust of 62.5kmh and an average of 43.5kmh, he documents.

"This is a clear danger to the young persons hired by the NRA and WRA to pull targets," Mr Maxberry says.

In the wind the wooden targets could be blown down on to the target pullers in the trench below, Mr Maxberry says.

The targets are large, "made with a heavy wood frame. They take two people to carry them and a target could get blown over and easily hurt someone."

Mr Maxberry says his attempts to raise safety concerns on days of high wind were frustrated with the operating phones numbers proving unable to contact camp personnel.

"I do expect those on the WRA and NRA who conducted this event along with the chief range officer to be brought on charges for violations of the standing range orders," he wrote to Major Hayes-Jones.

Mr Maxberry says: "The NRA is trying to ignore these breaches and the army has to enforce it."

Mr Maxberry, a specialist gunsmith, was on the NRA's technical committee for 10 years and has represented the country at the sport's safety conferences overseas.

Last year the NZDF signed a 30-year lease with the NRA for the use of the Trentham range.

Major Hayes-Jones says: "'With all our ranges, safety is paramount.

"The army will take any concerns about the safety of the range expressed by individuals very seriously and ensure these concerns are investigated.

"There are one set of range standing orders for Seddon Range, the range used by the rifle association, which lays out restrictions for the use of the range in windy conditions as part of those rules," he says of Mr Maxberry's claims.

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"The rules clearly state the process for the range conducting officer to identify if the wind is too strong. This is dependent on a number of factors: weapon type being fired, type of ammunition, the direction of the wind.

"When we get information suggesting weapons have been fired in contravention to these orders we investigate the allegation," he says.

"Currently we are carrying out investigations into claims of this nature, which takes time to ensure it is conducted thoroughly," Major Hayes-Jones's reply says.

"If it is a founded allegation we have a process to deal with offenders, but to date, we have not found ourselves in this situation.

"With regard to the target pullers, this is clearly a concern and if the wind is coming from the rear, thus having the potential to cause a round to accelerate, the RCO stops firing, in accordance with the range standing orders,"

"We are working on many other programmes to improve procedures to maximise the safe use of all Trentham ranges.

"With these amendments (to standing orders) we will be in a position to make better the already impeccable safety record of Trentham Ranges," he says.

- Upper Hutt Leader

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