Fort Worth shooting range targets demand, firearms education

A. Lee Graham

The location of Fort Worth’s next shooting range seemed predestined. While scouting possible sites for Defender Outdoors Shooting Center, owner Matt Johnson did a double-take. Sure, the 1.1-acre property fronted Cullen Street just east of North University Drive, but planned renovations made the back street better suited as a primary entryway. That back street was named Shotts Street. “We took it as a sign,” said Johnson, pointing to the countless shots expected to be fired when customers start squeezing off rounds and learning about gun safety and use. That’s Johnson’s goal: educating first-time gun owners while providing licensed shooters a place to fire their weapons.

“I wanted to create an environment for existing gun owners and new gun owners and educate them on how to responsibly own a gun, to keep it secure at home,” Johnson said. When it opens next summer, the 41,000-square-foot indoor training facility at 2900 Shotts St. will offer 34 shooting lanes: 28 for pistol shooting at 15 to 25 yards long; six lanes for rifle shooting at 85 yards long, marking Tarrant County’s only civilian indoor range of its type; and 5,600 square feet of retail space, reflecting the origins of the business as an online firearms and ammunition retailer. It will join several Tarrant County shooting ranges already open in Fort Worth, Burleson, Roanoke and Argyle. Renovations have not begun to the existing Shotts Street structure, but Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford has been hired as project architect. A lead construction firm is expected to be chosen sometime in October, and a project construction budget has yet to be finalized but is estimated at about $5 million. Johnson will finance the project along with loans from Trinity Bank and Community Trust Bank. Johnson’s unlikely route to owning a gun range began in Whitesboro, the Grayson County town where he owns Holiday Chevrolet and Holiday Ford auto dealerships. The Texas Christian University graduate entered the car business through friend, mentor and Weatherford car dealer Jerry Durant. Durant taught Johnson the ropes before Johnson secured his own dealership. But things changed in 2008. The recession led Johnson to hedge his bets by bidding on some police vehicle contracts, hoping to supply law enforcement departments. “I ended up getting DPS [Department of Public Safety] for all of Texas,” said Johnson, whose dealership provided 450 Chevrolet Tahoes in his first year.

“Then they started asking if we sold guns and ammunition, that they would like to buy guns and ammo through us,” Johnson said. So Johnson launched as an online weapons and ammunition resource. Online customer forums soon filled the website, with many expressing a need for a shooting range. “That’s how this concept was born,” Johnson said. But Johnson’s vision faced several hurdles. Among them was securing a zoning change, which the Fort Worth City Council granted in March after some residents had expressed concern to the Fort Worth Independent School District over the site’s proximity to the district’s administration building. But Johnson got his wish when the property was rezoned from medium industrial to planned development for all uses, including an indoor shooting race. Public perception is another challenge.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

In 2010, Rowlett joined a growing numbers of cities nationwide where stray bullets fired from gun ranges reportedly struck a nearby neighborhood. Such headlines, coupled with ongoing debates concerning gun safety, have made gun safety a hot topic. “We want to educate. Our main focus is on education and safety and training,” said Tiffany Harris, marketing director for the Fort Worth range and one of its training instructors. Johnson’s team is determined to fill what it considers a rising demand among prospective customers for training as well as for help in finding the appropriate firearm. Firearms sales nationwide have risen 88 percent in the last 10 years, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Meeting that demand – and educating new gun owners – means jobs, said Harris. About 35 full-time and 10 part-time positions are expected to be created at the shooting range before it opens. Positions will include trainers and range safety officers.