Machine gun range rattles neighbors

Tredd Barton exhibits the second most popular gun for target practice at his West Alexander machine gun range: a 1942 Army-issued Tommy gun.

The newest and least restrictive public gun range in Washington County has been open for about six months, thanks to the relaxed zoning of Donegal Township.

Washington County Machine Guns, owned and operated by Tredd Barton, 48, of West Alexander, offers the use of silenced pistols and large-caliber machine guns for longtime hobbyists and first-timers alike.

The aim is to offer some fun while educating customers on safety and respect of deadly weapons, but not everyone is so home on the range.

“I mean, a lot of West Alexander is within earshot,” said Fay Shaw of Greaves Road, who lives about a quarter-mile from the range.

“We’re not threatened by it – my husband Gary is a Vietnam veteran – but we’re not comfortable with it. We like to sit outside in our little pavilion, and it’s very annoying. Three or four times, they’ve blown something up where it shakes our house.

“We went to a township meeting, and they said there’s nothing they could do,” she said, “and I don’t know why anyone would want to learn how to shoot those types of guns. Someone could go berserk around them. It’s expensive, which we like, because it means not too many people are doing it.”

Donegal Township Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ealy confirmed there’s no municipal ordinance preventing or enforcing the use of guns.

The range has packages with rates ranging from $99 to $450 to shoot as few as three or as many as 15 guns. Safety equipment is provided, along with supervision from a NRA safety officer.

“We’re the only ones in this area that allow fully automatic machine guns,” Barton said before attaching a suppressor to an MP5 9mm Navy Seal machine gun, “and we allow basically anything. So if law enforcement wants to practice quick draw, or someone wants to unload a full magazine, you can do that here. This range is all about tactical, real-world, proper defensive use of guns.”

Bowling pins are Barton’s targets of choice, in lieu of typical paper targets.

“Shooting paper is just so boring. It’s static, whereas the pins are a reactive target – they move, they fall down, you can shoot them as they fly down the range,” Barton said.

And the pins can be obliterated with anything up to a belt-fed 60mm machine gun, the likeness of which is recognizable by watching Vietnam War footage and looking at what was hanging out the side of helicopters. Another historical gun – the second-most popular to shoot behind the M60, according to Barton – is the 1942 U.S. Army Thompson “Tommy gun.”

“You’ve seen in movies Army guys storming Normandy, or getting into the tanks in World War II – this is the gun they were using. It’s a classic. Not a reproduction, this is the actual gun,” he said.

Barton is a veteran who served from 1985 to 1988 in the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Infantry Division. He grew up around guns, but it was his time in the military that solidified his fascination and appreciation for weapons so much that he became a weapons builder himself. That’s how he’s able to place pistols and rifles in the hands of civilians without breaking the law.

“You can’t buy an assault weapon if it was made after 1986. But I can manufacture them, and can allow someone to use them, but I can’t sell to anyone,” he said.

Barton took the time to dispel other misnomers about guns in Pennsylvania, saying he’s surprised to learn how many hunters don’t know they can go out in the field with suppressors to protect their hearing.

“It is perfectly legal to hunt with a suppressor or silencer,” he said, “and with concealed carry, it’s your right, so long as you have the permits, to carry a concealed weapon. So say a private business that makes itself a gun-free zone. If a person were to walk in there, and someone saw the gun, they could be asked to leave and probably should, but they wouldn’t be breaking any federal or state laws about guns – you’d just be trespassing,” he said.

One of Barton’s guests who helped him build the range, Anthony Ciravolo of Pittsburgh, was shooting pistols on a recent weekday, and echoed Barton’s sentiments about gun rights and ownership.

“Shooting pistols, I like them because it requires a lot of discipline to implement them in a tactical setting. … To take responsibility of carrying a gun, you should undertake the training and constant practice of how to use it if needed,” Ciravolo said.

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