Free Market

Tax Dollars for a Gun Range?

During the recent legislative session, word broke out that the financially failing Swanson Tactical Training Center in Ogden, Utah, was looking for an easy exit. Having appraised the facility for north of $11 million, the Swansons were willing to sell to the county for under $4 million.

The problem facing the county was that they didn’t have the money. So, in unsurprising fashion, they ramped up their lobbying efforts in search of state funds. In late January, a free dinner and shooting event was held at the facility to dazzle legislators and encourage their support of an appropriation of tax dollars to help make the sale a reality.

Senator Allen Christensen, a proponent of the expenditure of tax dollars on the gun range, remarked: “This is a fantastic deal. You’re talking about tens of millions of dollars that have been expended on this whole facility, and we’re getting it for a fraction of that.” (Somehow we’re to believe that a price being discounted is sufficient to justify the government’s acquisition and ownership of something…)

It should also be noted that this wasn’t Swanson’s first attempt at approaching the legislature; in 2008, the Senate unanimously voted for a $2 million appropriation to the Tactical center, laundering our tax dollars through the Division of Housing and Community Development. The appropriation was never considered in the House, and therefore was not approved. 

2014 saw a transition in the appropriation from Housing and Community to Economic Development—this despite the pitch being made as a bone thrown to law enforcement, to ensure they have access to a training facility in their region. What police training has to do with economic development, we do not know. The legislature this year approved a $1.5 million disbursement of tax dollars—your money—as a “Major Fund Initiative” within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

This money was thrown together with $2.3 million that the county transferred out of its paramedic fund. (Again, what law enforcement training has to do with paramedic funding, we do not know.) The resulting $3.8 million in taxpayer money was sent to the Swansons, and now the county owns a gun range.

In a recent editorial, the Standard Examiner editorialized as follows:

In our opinion, we don’t understand why private funds are [not] running to save the Swanson gun range if it’s a great deal. We remain skeptical of investing taxpayers’ dollars…. So far, the best arguments to spend almost $4 million of tax dollars for a new gun range are along the lines of “it’s a great idea.” Better arguments may insure against a future Weber County white elephant.

It’s important to point out that Utahns around the state were required to help fund the purchase of a gun range in a single location, benefitting only those in the surrounding area. Residents of St. George, Vernal, Provo, and other cities around the state should not be forced to subsidize a facility that does not benefit them in any way. If Weber County officials wanted to convince residents of the alleged need to purchase the facility outright—and therefore require them to pay not only for its purchase, but also its ongoing maintenance—then they should have proposed a bond to the residents in that community along with the resulting tax increase.

Instead, we once against witnessed the path of least resistance being followed—the lobbying effort to receive a portion of taxes taken from all Utahns, almost all of whom do not even realize how their money has now been used. The Examiner’s article reporting the purchase of the facility notes that there was “little public input” in the taxpayer-financed purchase of the Swanson Tactical Center. Saying the public’s input on this arrangement was “little” is being overly generous.