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Real Journalism: Reporter Uncovers Wrongdoing at Florida’s Most Popular Public Range

Friday, June 26, 2015

Real Journalism: Reporter Uncovers Wrongdoing at Florida’s Most Popular Public Range

Investigative journalist Lee Williams and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune should be congratulated for their work in uncovering an alleged gross misappropriation of funds at the most popular public shooting range in Florida.

The article, published Wednesday and titled “State gun range officials pocketed funds meant for charity,” outlines a disturbing account of two range officials at the Cecil M. Webb Shooting Range, run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, using their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of Florida’s shooters. According to Williams, these range employees were arranging for the spent brass collected at the facility to be processed by metal recyclers, with the proceeds ending up in their personal coffers. This was no small sum, as Williams notes that the range has 100,000 visitors a year, who leave a veritable mountain of profitable brass.

This practice went on for several years undisturbed. However, in 2012 assistant general counsel for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made clear to one of the offending range officials that the revenue from the brass collected at the range belonged to the state. Despite this direction, documents obtained by Williams suggest the practice continued.

The revenue from brass collected at Webb is supposed to be allocated for the Florida Youth Hunt Program.   In fact, this wasn’t a mystery to shooters at the range.  Barrels used for collection of spent brass have signs on them telling shooters that proceeds would benefit the Youth Hunt Program.   

For his article, Williams sought former NRA president and current Executive Director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida Marion Hammer’s thoughts on the alleged misconduct. Hammer explained that these funds should have benefitted youth camps that promote hunting, fishing, and firearms safety. Outraged, Hammer told Williams, “Just think of the improvements we could have made to the existing camps, and we could have built an entire new youth camp somewhere else in Florida with that money,” adding, “Nobody better try to whitewash this, and anything other than prison time is a whitewash.”

Florida’s Youth Hunt is but one example of the countless ways in which the hunting and shooting community continues to serve as the financial backbone of conservation and education programs throughout Florida and the rest of the country.  The most obvious example is the Pittman-Robertson excise tax on firearms and ammunition, which as of 2012 had raised over $8 billion to be used for conservation, education, and wildlife management initiatives benefitting all Americans.  Additionally, revenue from hunting licenses and fees is frequently used to create and maintain public lands used for hunting, wildlife habitat, and other recreational activities.  As gun owners are entrusting these funds to various governments, it remains our duty to ensure that they are being used for their intended purpose. An instance such as the scandal at Cecil M. Webb Shooting Range illustrates the need for gun owners to remain vigilant in the oversight of these funds.

We encourage gun owners to read this important Herald-Tribune story by following this link. Any New York Times or Washington Post employees who happen upon this page might also want to check out Williams’ article; they might learn something about what honest investigative reporting is supposed to look like.

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