The Last Public Shooting Range in NYC

"If I ever close, I might be killing off a whole couple of generations of shooters ahead of us."
"If I ever close, I might be killing off a whole couple of generations of shooters ahead of us." photo from nbcnews.comweb photo

It’s widely known that New York City is not the friendliest of places for gun owners, with a numbers of laws and restrictions that make it impossible for all but a few of the city’s nearly 8.5 million inhabitants to own a firearm, and even fewer to carry one.

An individual permit is required to purchase any long gun or handgun, which must be registered. A gun owner must also have a gun owner’s license. The city has a 5-round magazine capacity limit for long guns and a 10-round mag cap for handguns. All NFA weapons are outlawed.

This also isn’t the most hospitable place one could operate a gun range. Darren Leung’s Westside Rifle & Pistol has about 1,500 members and is the only one of its kind in the Big Apple.

According to this story from NBCnews.com, it's located in the basement of a Manhattan office building on West 20th Street and it's the only remaining public gun range on the island. Its the same place where Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) went to practice in Taxi Driver and has been the place New Yorkers have come to shoot for 52 years.

"The guys who are down there are just regular people," Leung said in the story. "We're all good people, family people, and just like-minded individuals. We have everything from housewives to clergy to plumbers to lawyers, doctors, students."

Leung bought into the business in 1989 from its original owner, who opened the place in 1965. He became the sole owner in 2011. During that time he did a stint of about 15 years as a New York state peace officer for a child abuse unit, the story says.

“Guns and firearms mechanics have been a love of Leung's for as long as he can remember. It was an interest shaped by his uncles — one who was a gangster, another in law enforcement — as well as from television, he said.”

“Leung's mother never dissuaded her son from doing what he wanted.”

‘But she always kind of wondered why we didn't study a little bit harder in school and why didn't she get the lawyer and doctor she wanted,’ he said.

“Unlike many who hate their jobs, Leung loves coming to work. The space has all the feel of a backroom in a police precinct or firehouse. A pot of fresh coffee simmers alongside cookies and cakes. Fire and police decals cover the glass window to the wood-paneled front office where visitors sign in.”

When NBC tried to talk to some of the range's customers, they got the cold shoulder, the story says. They received a similar response from people there to fill out paperwork to apply for a gun permit, a service which the range handles for a fee.

Leung said in the story it was because of how the city, where billionaire anti-gunner and founder of the gun control group Everytown For Gun Safety was formerly mayor, has stigmatized gun ownership.

"You don't want to be the guy who's the odd ball out, who gets picked out," Leung said in the story. "One of the biggest fears too is that if people know you have a gun, they're going to target your house first."

Even if you haven’t gone through the arduous and often expensive process of obtaining the permits necessary to exercise your Second Amendment rights in NYC (which includes an in-person interview), you can still come shoot at Westside, as long as you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident of at least 21 years of age and pass a NICS background check. Then, you can shoot a .22-caliber rifle under the supervision of an instructor.

You can only shoot .22 rifles, because a license is required to even shoot a handgun. Anyone under the age of 18 can use a shotgun or rifle as long as the permit holder is present.

The story says that the NYPD reports there are 41,360 handgun licenses and 20,449 long gun permits registered in the city, including active and retired law enforcement personnel.

“If you qualify to carry a gun, why should you not, as long as you're a person of responsibility," Leung said. "As long as you undergo training, I can't see why you should deny somebody that right."

"If I ever close, I might be killing off a whole couple of generations of shooters ahead of us," Leung said. "So it's always in the back of my mind that it's important to maintain the range, and to maintain it correctly."

"We realize that we're the minorities in this city," Leung said in the story. "We're the gun owners. We're the licensees. We're but a handful of people that have this."