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Safety major part of Bellevue range
One of the largest indoor shooting ranges in the country, West Coast Armory of Bellevue, is housed in a squat, unassuming building off of Factoria Mall. Inside it’s quieter than usual, says President Lance Kilgore as he leads a tour of the facilities. He points out the shooting stalls, an air ventilation system that keeps the air lead free, and a pro shop at the front of the building.
Friday nights are rifle league; Tuesdays are pistol league; on Sundays “Right on Target,” an entry-level gun course regularly meets. And then there are the others. With 33,000 members and classes booked through the next few months, West Coast Armory is a hidden but beloved facet of Bellevue. Members come for sport, for practice and simply out of curiosity.
“It’s the mom, the grandfather, the father who likes to hunt and wants to protect his family. It’s the grocery store clerk, and the waitress,” says Gracie McKee, an NRA certified instructor at WCA. “We own firearms and enjoy them out of a love for the sport, out of a love for family, and out of a love for the outdoors. It’s bred in love.”
Recent events have again spurred national debates about the rights surrounding firearms. But for the folks at West Coast Armory, gun owners don’t fit any one stereotype. Kilgore points to the parking lot outside, where Ferraris are parked alongside Lamborghinis and a ’78 Jeep.
Kilgore, grew up in Bellevue, attended Bellevue High and can remember going with his dad and granddad to shoot as young as 10. He founded West Coast Armory, working predominately with law enforcement agencies throughout the state and U.S. A facility was opened in Issaquah. Kilgore had heard many times of the demand for an indoor range for law enforcement. Many departments have difficulty maintaining a shooting range of the size needed to train an entire force. So when their Bellevue location opened, he worked with federal agencies to ensure that proper safety and design features were accounted for.
Today, Kilgore says he’s worked with all manner of gun owners, from novices and first time users, to local police departments and the Department of Homeland Security.
“We’re not just gun people,” says Kilgore. “We support our community because we’re about more than numbers.”
That philosophy—safety and community first—is the guiding principle behind WCA. McKee likens shooting to any other hobby or skill—the more you practice, the better you become. And both worry that recent events will force discussion under the table.
“We have about 33,000 people and about half of those people are from the Bellevue zip code. So what types of stereotypes are you creating?” asks Kilgore. “One of the biggest problems with firearms, is that we’ve made them a taboo topic.”
Stereotypes about gun owners simply aren’t true, says McKee, a petite blonde, who can remember always harboring a fascination for guns. She was 15 when she first found out her dad owned them, and 19 when she started shooting. Determined to get her concealed weapons permit when she was 21, she began taking classes and training herself regularly.
“More women are getting interested in pistol sports, as well as rifle sports. And they’re really excelling in it,” observes McKee. “If you take a look at some of the world championship shooters, many of them are women.”
To ensure gun safety, WCA offers rentals and storage facilities on site, and WCA prides itself on its commitment to each individual member. McKee recalls spending up to an hour with a customer, just to help him find the right fit. Teaching them the implications of ownership is equally important as the sale itself.
“It’s similar to horseback riding,” says McKee. “When you find a gun you love, you tend to be able to read that gun.”
Both are cognizant of the discussions encircling gun ownership since tragedies like Newtown. Kilgore, notes more friends and community members suddenly taking interest. But much of the media coverage, he says, is sensationalized and consequently dangerous.
“Gun culture is here to stay and the best way to deal with violence we’ve seen in society is to address that,” says Kilgore. “Sure, there are probably some gun laws that need to be passed…but we need to see this [as a series] of things that need to be addressed.”