By Aaron Post
The Tiffin Police Department is in the process of drawing up a new contract that redefines the private use of its shooting range, after a Circleville native sparked controversy over private use of the facility.
"I was looking at expanding my business north and I thought what a better place than the local police station," said Aaron Mahan, owner of Ohio Concealed Carry Institute in Columbus.
The concealed carry weapons instructor talked with Mayor Aaron Montz about using the shooting range in the basement of the municipal building for commercial purposes in April, but was denied access.
"If the city allows other instructors to use the facility it should open a contract for bidding," Mahan said.
Montz told Mahan that the shooting range is not opened to the public because of liability issues.
Mahan said he was upset because other concealed carry weapons instructors have used the facility to teach the
state-mandated training course, which allows for any qualified citizen to become licensed to carry a concealed handgun.
Lt. Police Chief Michelle Craig said she was in the process of drawing up liability insurance and Interim Police Chief Fred Stevens, who recently returned from Federal Bureau of Investigation training in Virginia, said he was being briefed on the matter.
In the past the city has made liability exceptions for several instructors.
Seneca County Deputy Craig Robbins is a certified CCW instructor through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.
"I've taught this class since the (concealed carry) law passed in 2004," Robbins said. "I usually offer the class once a year at Izaak Walton. This April I used the city's shooting range because of the weather."
Robbins said he is also responsible for qualifying police officers with weapon use.
Tiffin Attorney Dean Henry, an NRA certified instructor, also uses the range.
"I approached Chief LaGrange four years ago and was given permission to use the city's shooting range," Henry said.
Henry's CCW business is called Covenant Holdings LLC, but he did not say whether or not he used the facility for business purposes.
Along with police officers in training and select CCW instructors, the city's shooting range has been open to members of Tiffin Seneca Izaak Walton League of America for the last 10 years, Henry said.
Mahan has made accusations that the city is giving preference to instructors who are Izaak Walton members.
"Public institutions should not allow for unfair competition and exclude instructors because they are not part of a club," Mahan said.
Henry said the city is looking at formalities in documents between Izaak Walton and the police department because of Mahan's suggestive reasoning.
"I am in the process of redrafting documents so it doesn't look like Izaak Walton is some sort of boy's club," Henry said.
Tiffin Seneca Izaak Walton President Larry Kipps said CCW instructors are not allowed to use the facility anymore beginning this summer. He said when anyone, including CCW instructors, rent out the facility it is inconvenient to other Izaak Walton members who want to use the shooting range.
Izaak Walton is a non-profit nationwide conservation league with the goal of environmental preservation.
The indoor range is used regularly by Izaak Walton members in exchange for Tiffin's police force being able to use the outdoor shooting range at Izaak Walton, as part of their training.
Montz said the reason the city only has this reciprocal agreement with Izaak Walton is because it saves resources, allowing police offices to practice on the outdoor range. He also mentioned it saves money.
Izaak Walton states in their conservation policy they support the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms.
Izaak Walton recently donated $1,000 towards the restoration of the city's shooting range.
CCW laws have been changing since 2004, when it first became legal for licensed owners to carry a concealed handgun.
According to Ohio law, licensed owners can keep a handgun in their vehicle if it is locked, and if they are pulled over they have to notify the approaching police officer they have a handgun.
Mahan has petitioned for state legislature that would make it unnecessary for a licensed concealed carry owner to disclose to an officer if he/she is carrying, because of infringement on personal rights.
CCW classes are required to be 12 hours in length, by law and citizens have to be 21 years of age, a resident of Ohio and "mentally competent," according to Ohio's Concealed Carry Law and License handbook, distributed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Also certain criminal records can disqualify citizens.
According to statistics released by DeWine's office this year, 104 residents in Seneca County obtained new CCW licenses in the first quarter. Five licenses were renewed and one was revoked.
The only other private organization having access to the police department shooting range is the Tiffin Rifle Club, who built the range when the municipal building was constructed in 1938.