Sarah Brown stood at the firing line at the Frontier Justice indoor shooting range and smiled at the irony of her setting.
“Not long ago, I could never see myself doing this,” said Brown, who lives in Grandview. “I wasn’t brought up with guns; my family didn’t have them. And I was apprehensive about even handling one.
“But I wanted to learn how to shoot a gun for personal safety. And there’s a huge comfort factor coming to a place like this.”
“A place like this” is Frontier Justice in Lee’s Summit, one of the new so-called “guntry clubs” popping up across the nation.
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With the popularity of shooting — either for recreational target practice, hunting or personal protection training — on the rise, the setting for that pastime is evolving. More than 20 million Americans now participate in recreational target practice, and new indoor ranges with plush comforts are adding a changing dimension to shooting sports.
Sure, you’ll still find the dimly lit, dusty, no-frills indoor ranges of your grandaddy’s days. But you’ll also find upscale gun clubs such as Frontier Justice that are a little more avant-garde.
The Lee’s Summit gun club is far from unique. The Lock & Load club, set in Miami’s art district, is an upscale shooting facility that attracts young professionals and celebrities such as LeBron James to shoot weapons ranging from machine guns to semiautomatics in their spare time. At other clubs in major cities, such as Houston, Las Vegas and Dallas, cushy indoor ranges offer everything from gun valets to apps to reserve shooting lanes.
High-end, catering to the younger generation, appealing to women, giving shooting sports a touch of class — that’s the aim of the new guntry clubs. The average age of the new recreational shooters is 33, and 47 percent of them live in urban or suburban settings, according to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. And 37 percent of these new recreational shooters are women.
Frontier Justice is proof of the trend toward trendy. Walk into the facility, and you’re greeted by artwork and a huge statue of a horse — made, fittingly, from spent CO2 canisters used by shooters.
To the right, there is a cafe where shooters relax after finishing their rounds. Straight ahead is a a boutique with Western chic apparel, jewelry and home furnishings.
Walk down the hall, and you’re in a gun lover’s dream world. The club sells weapons ranging from Glocks to sporting shotguns and rifles. Some of them are available for rent so shooters can try them on the range. A gunsmith is on duty, helping to adjust and repair guns. And a comfortable lounge allows members to relax, watch television and talk guns.
The facility includes 14 fixed-position pistol lanes, six 25-yard advanced tactical lanes for pistol or rifles, and three 50-yard rifle lanes. There also is a training simulator in which users are put in different situations and have to react and fire real guns that shoot CO2 cartridges and lasers.
Even the ventilation system is cutting edge, reducing smoke and dust with a high-tech ventilation setup.
Boil it down, and the goal is the same, say owners Bren and Mike Brown.
“We want to make shooters, regardless of their skill level, feel comfortable here,” Bren said.
“There is such a negative stigma associated with guns,” Mike said. “A lot of people think about the ‘boogie man’ when they think about guns. But there are a lot of good people who have them, too.
“There are good, responsible people who enjoy shooting and know how to handle a firearm in a responsible way. That’s what we’re trying to promote here.”
Around the Kansas City area, Centerfire Shooting Sports in Olathe offers an indoor range, classes, shooting leagues, specialized instruction and a retail area. And clubs such as the Bullet Hole in Overland Park, which has been in business since 1967, offer tradition and a loyal following.
But the shooting industry says the area has seen nothing as elaborate as Frontier Justice.
Both of the Browns, who live in Lee’s Summit, are experienced shooters. Mike is an avid hunter who learned to handle a firearm when he was in Boy Scouts, and joined his dad, grandfather and uncle in hunting. Bren is an experienced target shooter who has competed in leagues and other competitions.
Both will tell you that handling a gun is as American as apple pie.
“Faith, Family and Freedom — that’s our motto,” Bren said. “We’re proud to be Americans, and we defend the Second Amendment and the right to carry a firearm.
“One of our tag lines is, ‘Make a stand.’ As a society, we’ve become so politically correct that we’ve lost part of what our country was founded on.
“We’re trying to break the stereotypes about guns. We’re trying to create a family-type atmosphere where we reduce the fear of guns.”
Not everyone shares the Browns’ opinions about guns, of course. Some gun-control organizations insist that fewer firearms, not more, would go a long way toward reducing crime rates.
They say the new up-scale shooting ranges merely put a new face on an old problem and will make it more difficult to control firearms.
“They are constantly trying to find new avenues to increase gun sales and to normalize gun ownership, not just to adults, but to children,” Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, said in a recent Yahoo News article. “It’s kind of like turning strip clubs into ‘gentleman’s clubs’ — it’s still at its core the same concerns and the same dangers.”
Kansas City made national headlines last month with the botched robbery of She’s A Pistol gun store in Shawnee. The Jan. 9 incident left one of the shop’s owners, Jon Bieker, dead. Four suspects are in jail awaiting an April preliminary hearing on felony charges of first-degree murder.
And one of the first box-office hits of 2015 is “American Sniper,” film that recounts the story of a highly decorated Navy SEAL who was killed at a gun range in Texas.
The Browns and others argue that proper education and training for new gun owners, in addition to supervised shooting sessions, create new safety levels for those interested in the shooting sports.
Sarah Brown, no relation to the owners, is representative of one of the groups the owners of Frontier Justice are trying to reach.
“I wanted to go through this myself,” she said. “I didn’t want to rely on my husband.
“They have great instructors here, and they let you go at your own pace.”
But the new indoor gun range also is appealing to experienced shooters. On a recent weekday, Tom Hanchette of Leawood was busy sighting-in his rifle in preparation for a wild-hog hunt in Texas.
“I took my wife along the other day. She shopped while I was on the range,” he said. “I haven’t see a place like this before. It’s pretty impressive.”
▪ WHAT: Frontier Justice, located at 800 NE Jones Industrial Drive, Lee’s Summit, is an example of a national trend toward providing “Guntry Clubs.” It has a shopping area with chic women’s and men’s apparel, jewelery, home furnishings and more. It also has a cafe, a lounge for members, firearms and bows for sale, and shooting lanes for handgun, rifle and bow users.
▪ GRAND OPENING: The store has been open for several weeks now, but will celebrate its grand opening Friday and Saturday. Demonstrations, appearances by manufacturers, and special sessions in the classroom will be available at no cost.
▪ COST TO SHOOT: Memberships are available at different price levels. But walk-ins also can use the range for a daily price. Go to the website www.frontier-justice.com for details.
▪ TRENDY: Dozens of high-end indoor ranges are popping up across the nation as recreational target practice and personal safety training become more popular. Clubs in Miami, Dallas, Las Vegas and Houston offer everything from gun valets to plush lounges to apps to reserve shooting lanes and chess sets, according to a story in The Washington Post.