By Joseph Robertia
As the national gun-control debate continues to evolve, at the forefront of the debate is the AR-15 platform of semi-automatic rifles — demonized by some, defended by others.
Regardless of which way legislation goes in the future, in the here and now there are, by some estimates, more than 3 million AR-platform rifles in civilian use in the U.S. As such, the need to understand how to use, store and clean them safely is an important issue, and one not overlooked locally.
“They are favored for target shooting, hunting and personal protection, and have become the most popular rifle in America,” said Travis Wright, a former Marine, NRA-certified instructor for 20 years, and owner of the Impact Area gun shop on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
Wright taught a basic AR maintenance class Thursday at the Snowshoe Gun Club in Kenai, off the Kenai Spur Highway at the intersection with Beaver Loop Road. It was one of many classes planned for the coming year, as the gun club has recently built an indoor facility to host educational functions.
About a dozen people gathered for the class, which covered many nuances of the AR-15, such as the differences between direct impingements gas operation and short- or long-stroke piston operations, and how to clean them both.
Wright completely disassembled and reassembled several variations of AR-15 rifles, and explained which tools and products to use to clean them safely.
“Keeping firearms clean is important to them functioning properly and accurately,” he said.
Wright also explained the nuances between brass-cased and steel-cased rounds, and he discussed the differences in ammunition for AR-15s, such as what he said is a popular misconception — that the common .223 round is the same as a 5.56 round.
“You should always load to the specs of your rifle,” he said.
AR-platform rifles have experienced an explosion in the development of accessories for them, including various scopes, forward pistol grips, flashlights, lasers, and folding or collapsing buttstocks. Wright went over many of these accessories and how they attach to the rifle.
“At least 90 percent of these accessories are being innovated and made in the U.S. and there’s new manufacturers coming out all the time,” he said.
In addition to this most recent AR-15 class at the new gun club building, hunter education, Women on Target, Teens on Target, Delta Waterfowl youth and women waterfowl hunting, and Safari Club International youth hunting/shooting programs are all planned.
“The training building is currently in its final stages of completion,” said Steve Meyer, vice president of the gun club. “We will be installing siding and rock on the outside as well as some decorative work on the support pillars out front this summer. Eventually we plan to put a wraparound deck suitable for picnic tables and barbecue events.”
The building has been a long time coming, according to Meyer. Shooting in a place where it is wet or cold for half the year, firearm enthusiasts had wanted an indoor facility, but the cost of construction was too high. But as the club’s membership and dues grew, and members started apply for NRA grants, the idea began to get traction.
“A huge upsurge in membership in 2010 — from a steady 400 just three years ago to over 1,000 members — coupled with the Friends of the NRA willing to grant funds for adding facilities that would enhance training opportunities, gave the club the impetus to began planning for a training clubhouse,” he said.
Initially the NRA grant was just enough to cover the expenses for dirt work to build the pad and the road around where the building would be. With that funding the club decided to build the facility, regardless of any additional funding, and poured the concrete slab for the 28-by-56 building in fall 2011.
“From there, the club, with volunteer club members’ labor, began constructing the building. We designed it as we built, and had numerous donations of equipment and time from local contractors and businesses to assist the project. The open beam rafters were constructed by club members and were built from local spruce mills,” Meyer said.
That same fall, the club put in another grant request with the Friends of the NRA for assistance with the siding, kitchen cabinets, well, septic and various training-related aids to enhance opportunities to bring firearms training to the community. The request was granted in the amount of around $30,000.
“We continued to build the facility with club labor throughout the winter of 2011 to 2012 and we were blessed with a $2,500 donation from the state of Alaska Hunter Education Program for windows,” Meyer said.
The building isn’t the only upgrade being made at the range. The club also is planning on constructing new restroom facilities at the pistol and rifle ranges, as well as expanding the pistol ranges to include 20 separate pistol bays with some of the longer ranges suitable for AR-15-type shooting.
“This will require an extensive amount of excavation work and we are currently trying to beg, borrow or steal the help we need to get this done,” Meyer said.
The club also elected to sponsor a scholastic clay target program, which is composed of students who participate in trap, skeet, sporting clays and five-stand aerial target shooting with shotguns. They will be working toward developing this program in the coming year.
“In order to assist the students in being competitive with other scholastic clays programs around the state and the nation, we are planning on building a five-stand clay target venue near the existing trap and skeet fields,” Meyer said.
Additional funding will come through the Alaska Hunter Information and Training program, which already has donated two clay target machines and will provide an additional machine in 2013, he said.
The club also will host a full-costume “cowboy action shooter’s program,” and a .22 rimfire steel challenge this year. To learn more about these or other programs at the Snowshoe Gun Club, visit its Facebook page, or its Web page at http://www.snowshoegunclub.com.