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Monday, June 18, 2007

Playground Uses Big-Boy Toys

Posted on Mon, Jun. 18, 2007
Akron Beacon Journal

Playground uses big-boy toys
1,500-acre plot in northeast corner of Portage County is home to Hummers, hunting, guns

Beacon Journal staff writer

Ron Gregg, behind the wheel of a canary yellow Hummer, turns down a non-descript dirt road deep in the northeast corner of Portage County.

There is no sign, just a well-worn yellow metal fence pulled to the side and a half-dirt, half-gravel road heading into the bushes and trees. Across the street, there's a similar fence.

Both lead to a sportsman's paradise -- about 1,500 acres of off-road trails, streams, lakes, a campground and a large, open-air shooting range.

Property owner Dale Soinski and Gregg, who manages the land, have turned the former sand quarry into a giant playground for adults and their grown-up toys, whether they be Hummers, Argos, ATVs, sniper rifles or the .50-caliber M2 Heavy Barrel machine gun that Soinski has mounted on top of his former military-owned Hummer.

``It's a raw diamond,'' Gregg says, standing on top of a 40-foot hill that overlooks the shooting range.

Marketing the property

After years of building trails, fighting court battles over the shooting range and extending utilities far into some areas, Soinski and Gregg are now trying to better market the property -- called the Southington Hunt Club -- and attract more sportsmen for special outings and corporate events.

The shooting range already is used for training by police departments and Integrated Tactical Training Systems, a company run by University Heights police Sgt. James Holden that trains both law enforcement and civilians. And a gun manufacturer from Geauga County comes to test its weapons there.

Amazed by the variety of off-road conditions -- steep hills, deep streams, sand and mud -- Central Hummer East in Beachwood also has been holding its ``Hummer Happenings'' there for years. During the events, Hummer owners descend on the property and learn how to drive their expensive status symbols up and down hills, through streams and mud, and around sand dunes.

``That piece of property has everything,'' dealership sales manager John Pituch said.

Soinski, 59, a commercial roofing contractor and builder, bought the property in 1997. It's so expansive, it stretches across two counties, Portage and Trumbull.

``I've always bought all the land I could get. Bought and sold. Bought and sold,'' Soinski said during a recent visit to the the 100-yard shooting range. There's also a 350-yard range. ``I had a dream of getting over 1,000 acres. That was my goal.

``I can work in the city, but if I don't have to be next to somebody, I don't want to be next to somebody.''

Man behind the land

Soinski, a Hiram resident whom his friends describe as eccentric, is building an energy-efficient house on the property, too. The home is being built into the ground, bunker-style, with a 40-foot lighthouse on top. It overlooks a man-made 40-acre lake stocked with fish.

Why a lighthouse?

``It's a nice marriage between the house and the lake,'' Soinski said.

Besides being an avid hunter, Soinski, whose skin is tanned from years working outside as a contractor, is a gun enthusiast and collector of all types of all-terrain vehicles. (He owns a former military armored personnel carrier used in the Vietnam War.)

Guns are a special passion.

He's not sure how many weapons he has.

``That's classified,'' Gregg said, laughing.

When Soinski bought the property, it had been targeted as a possible landfill. It also had been the site of illegal dumping for years.

He cleaned it up, hauling out trash and developing wetlands. He also started landscaping the area with 18 miles of trails.

He's getting ready to construct a restroom and bathhouse near the campground.

As he looked over the property initially, one spot jumped out as a perfect setting for a shooting range. The backstop is an 80-foot-high quarry wall, created over the years as the former quarry business dug down into the earth. The wall is to the north -- ideal because the sun doesn't interfere with the shooters.

A pavilion with electricity was built for gatherings.

Two giant mounds of earth were landscaped on both sides to prevent ricochets.

Safety considered

``We tried to make the range the safest in the state,'' Soinski said.

Then there is his .50-caliber machine gun, which lets off booming noises when shot and kicks up dusts of sand as bullets hit the quarry wall. The weapon is his favorite to shoot among his collection because ``it gives you the biggest bang for the buck.''

``There was no place around here to shoot something like that safely,'' he said, pointing to the weapon.

That didn't stop neighbors in the rural area from objecting, though, for safety and noise reasons. He estimates the legal fight lasted six years before he was finally victorious.

``This is a very safe environment to shoot,'' said Holden, a police officer, certified trainer and firearms dealer.

It's also a great place to train. Need to shoot from your butt, go ahead. Need to shoot from a car, go ahead. Need to shoot from a bicycle, go ahead.

You can't do that at indoor ranges, which also frown on automatic weapons, Holden said.

``We like to do realistic training,'' he said.

Then there's the occasional car that they blow up.

The range isn't open to just anybody. People who want to shoot there must know Soinski and make arrangements in advance. As he attempts to promote the range more, he said he's more interested in attracting law enforcement officials -- the safest shooters -- and not weekend cowboys.

On a recent day, Soinski, Holden and friends set up bowling pins on the range and they neatly knocked them down with single shots.

``This is a dream,'' Soinski said.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Greater rights proposed for self-defense shootings

Full Story Here

Greater rights proposed for self-defense shootings
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 11:15 PM
Associated Press
Trying to build on success that began in Florida and spread to 17 other states, the National Rifle Association started a push in Ohio today that would give people more authority to use deadly force to defend themselves both in and outside their homes.

People who injure or kill an attacker in self defense no longer would shoulder the burden to prove their actions were justifiable under a bill introduced by Republican lawmakers. The proposal also would protect people who justifiably kill someone in self defense from civil lawsuits that could require them to pay damages.

The first similar law passed in Florida in 2005, and Ohio is one of 16 states where the NRA is currently pushing the legislation. The NRA also was responsible for pushing an Ohio law that enabled concealed carry permits for guns.

The influential gun-rights organization is methodically changing what it sees as laws that give undeserved protection to criminals and place the burden of proof on innocent victims.

Gun-control advocates argue the bill proposes a solution for a nonexistent problem. And they have said the laws hinge on a subjective interpretation of when a person may feel threatened, potentially leading to overreactions and fatal escalations to conflicts that could be defused by retreating.

The NRA-driven change — which was introduced with roughly 50 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, including some Democrats — provides the presumption that a person "acted properly in self defense" if the person "was suffering or was about to suffer an offense of violence that was a felony."

"At the end of the day what we're trying to do is make sure that people feel safer in their home, safer in their community, and take the affirmative steps necessary to protect themselves and their families," said sponsoring Sen. Steve Buehrer, a Republican from Delta.

Buehrer presented the bill saying it would only make changes to self-defense law for those protecting their home, which he said was his primary concern. But the NRA said language in the bill would also apply outside the home.

"Whether that ought to apply in other physical places is something we ought to debate," Buehrer said.

Supporters of the bill provide anecdotes illustrating the need for the change, but mainly argue that it doesn't make sense to place the burden of proof on people trying to defend themselves.

In a case "where a guy purely, clearly has the right to use self defense, we've had judges say, ‘No, the guy with a broken leg should have jumped out the second-story window,"' said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association.

NRA regional lobbyist John Hohenwarter predicted the issue will pass easily in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

"You don't have to be 100 percent on NRA issues to agree that people have a right to defend themselves," he said.

Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland supports the legislation.

"The governor is a strong defender of Second Amendment rights and he supports the rights of individuals to defend themselves," spokesman Keith Dailey said.

Supporters believe the change would enable people to better make decisions about how to respond in a dangerous situation, free of fear they will be prosecuted.

But a problem with the bill is that people in disputes can "take the law into their own hands," said Toby Hoover, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

"The big fear is that people with deadly weapons will now assume they are capable of making a decision of when that can be used, wherever they are," Hoover said.

Hohenwarter said gun-control advocates sounded the same alarm when concealed carry permits became law in many states. The "Wild West" prediction never materialized, he said.

Just before a 2005 Florida law went into effect to remove residents' duty to retreat from conflict in public places, a group that supports restrictions on guns handed out fliers in Florida airports warning tourists not to argue with locals because of what they called the "Shoot First" law.

Under the Florida law protecting people who are attacked, no one has used the new defense successfully to have murder charges dropped or to win acquittal from a jury. However, charges often are not filed in such self-defense cases.