Gun owners in Wake County, North Carolina are scrambling to find a new range after Sheriff Gerald Baker announced that his office will be closing the Wake Firearms Training Center to the public beginning in January. Baker says the facility, which was constructed with public funds and has been open to both the public and law enforcement officers for nearly twenty years, is a financial drain on his office.

The sheriff’s office has decided not to renew its contract with the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center, which provided firearms training to the public.

Officials are working with the range’s operator, Range Safety Management LLC, to honor classes scheduled through Jan. 5, authorities said.

Sheriff Baker said the contract with RSM wasn’t renewed because the range at 3921 Old Holly Springs Apex Road in Apex, was losing so much money that the sheriff’s office had to subsidize its operations for the last seven years.

Also, a financial review found that fees and funds collected by RSM weren’t accounted for accurately, he said.

The operators of the range are disputing the sheriff’s statements, according to the Charlotte News & Observer. 

Questions about how much money the center was getting from the sheriff’s office and the public were not answered by the Sheriff’s Office or the county Wednesday afternoon.

But Fred Stough, one of three partners of RSM, said the sheriff’s statement was inaccurate…

Memos sent to the Sheriff’s Office from Wake County this summer outlined a number of concerns within the sheriff’s department including how “both the firing range and general WCSO offices” were not following the county’s policy of handling cash. The sheriff’s office recently rebutted those memos with nearly 200 pages of his own documents.

The county’s cash-handling policies were recently revamped after the former Wake County Register of Deeds was charged and found guilty of embezzling money from her department.

Wake County did have concerns about how money was handled at the firing range, but none was ever missing, Stough said. The firing range doesn’t have an office, and the money for classes is collected from an off-site post office box and processed at RSM’s office, also off-site.

“We understand they had some concerns and talked to us about it, but they did a full accounting every month,” he said. “There was never a nickel missing when it was supposed to be there.”

Meanwhile, county officials have informed the sheriff that they plan on taking over control of the range from the sheriff’s office, and they want to keep the facility open to the public. From WRAL-TV:

“It is a community asset, and Wake County commissioners and staff will work to ensure that the facility is again made available for the community’s use as soon as possible,” county Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Ford said late Friday.

Gun owners and fans of real gun safety have responded as well. CBS 17 in Raleigh-Durham reports that more than 5,000 people have signed a petition asking the county to keep the range open to the public. Some are concerned that without access to the range, many residents simply won’t have a safe place to train.

Customers at the range told CBS 17 the shooting range is important to make sure that people have a safe place in the community to learn how to use firearms.

“I don’t want to be out there around people carrying guns who don’t know how to use them properly and I think that’s what’s important,” said Marlene Miller, a customer at the shooting range. “It’s a serious thing, you have to be able to learn how to use it properly, and this range will teach that.”

If the Wake County commissioners are looking for a new source of funding for the public range, maybe they can ask Michael Bloomberg for help. After all, the billionaire says he’s all about gun safety, right? Of course, his definition of gun safety is “don’t own a gun,” so he probably wouldn’t be willing to kick in some funds to ensure that the residents of Wake County have the opportunity to safely and effectively train with their firearms.

Hopefully county commissioners can reach a decision soon and the residents of Wake County won’t have to wait too long to return to the range. As of right now it looks like January 5th will be the last day the range is open to the public for the foreseeable future.