DURANGO, Colo. (CBS4) – A local gun club has been asked to drop its new requirement for each member to join the National Rifle Association or move out.
The Durango Gun Club, which has been leasing its Florida Road premises since 1963 from the City of Durango, decided to become a “100 percent NRA club” last week, the Durango Herald reported. All 700 members apart of the club must join the NRA and those who choose not will lose club membership.
Joe Perino, secretary and treasurer of the club, explained that it was a financial decision to join the NRA so that the club could be eligible for NRA grants that could help them make improvements to shooting ranges.
According to the Durango Herald, David Smith, the city attorney, sent an eviction letter dated March 13 to the club’s president, John Malarsie, stating that if the club’s NRA “policy is, in fact, in place, it is an objectionable use of public land and must be discontinued. If the Board of Directors of the club choose not to discontinue this policy, this letter constitutes notice to vacate the premises within the next 30 days.”
The club’s leadership must inform the city of its decision within the next 10 days.
“As I am sure you are aware, the NRA has changed rather significantly over the years and has now become, through the choice of the organization, a symbolic agency for relatively extreme political conservatism. There certainly is nothing inherently wrong with this,” Smith wrote in the letter.
Malarsie wrote an email Saturday to club members in which he explained that the club has been affiliated with the NRA for many years and that during the December club meeting they decided to amend the By-Laws.
“The problem arises when the leadership of the Durango Gun Club, operating on public property, determines that membership within this conservative political organization should be a condition of membership in the Durango Gun Club or a condition of the right to use the leased facility located on City-owned land,” Smith wrote in the letter.
Malarsie explained that the gun club’s indoor shooting range is on city land and that the outdoor shooting range is on La Plata County land. The county is trying to determine whether or not if the club’s NRA membership requirement violates their lease terms with the county, La Plata County Manager Joe Kerby said.
According to the Durango Herald, Malarsie wrote in the email that “The political climate has changed very much in the State of Colorado and here in the City of Durango. An uproar has been generated by the local newspaper about the requirement for Club membership. The lease with the city expired on February 1, 2013 and the City put the Club on a year at a time lease until a new City/County range could be built. Based on some letters to the editor and other forces that we are not aware of the Club received a letter from the City Attorney, which gives the Club 10 days to inform the Attorney of the Club’s intent to either retreat from our policy of NRA membership or vacate the premises in 30 days. This to us implies that we are being blackmailed to get us off the property so the City can continue with a planned expansion of their recreational facilities, Ie. (sic) Mountain bike, bicycle park.”
The city mayor, Dick White, said city staff members were taken by surprise and that when the council assembled, members asked the city manager and Smith to tell the club that the NRA membership requirement was not compatible with its city lease.
“We’d gotten a ton of emails from folks complaining about this,” White said to the Durango Herald. “This one was a no-brainer. There was clear consensus that this was the appropriate action. White said the club’s decision to require NRA membership had forced the city’s hand. Their motivation was that they can get grants from the NRA – but they are also essentially getting a free grant from the city. We heard quite a strident outcry from the public that this is simply inappropriate because the NRA has essentially become a political organization, putting the city in the position of making a de facto endorsement.”