Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith is hopeful that the Sheriff's Office firing range will soon be open to the public on a limited basis this fall, giving local citizens a place to practice.
"We would start slow at first, maybe one Saturday a month," Smith said on Wednesday while a parking lot was being carved out near the range.
There would be no charge for gun owners to use the range, and the department would have a certified firearms instructor on-site, Smith added.
The plan would provide a safe space for gun owners, especially new ones, to practice using a weapon. Many local municipalities have ordinances that ban the use of firearms.
Smith plans to use discretionary funds to improve the overall appearance of the range with basic landscaping and the new parking area. He will also be refurbishing a mobile classroom donated to the Sheriff's Office by the Walker County Board of Education.
The range, located near the Walker County Landfill and Walker County Humane and Adoption Center on Highway 118, is currently only used by the public during firearms safety courses sponsored periodically by the department.
All spots in the Aug. 8 filled up quickly once the class was announced.
"That shows me that there is a demand for this," Smith said.
The Daily Mountain Eagle has previously reported that gun sales increased across the county during the pandemic and after violent protests in Birmingham.
The number of pistol permits being issued at the Walker County Sheriff's Office has doubled during the pandemic, and many people are getting one for the first time, according to Smith.
Smith: property crimes still in decline
Property crimes in Walker County are at a five-year low, according to statistics released by Smith this week.
Through July 27, the department investigated an average of 18 burglaries and 33 felony thefts a month. In all, there have been 131 burglaries and 234 felony thefts in 2020.
The figures are similar to last year, when burglaries were down 36 percent from 348 in 2018 to 225 in 2019. Felony thefts were relatively unchanged during the same time period.
Property crimes were at their highest in 2015 — 429 burglaries and 585 felony thefts.
Those crimes had fallen 25 percent by 2017 but then rose again in 2018.