Under the gun

A leafleting campaign puts a local activist on the offensive

James W. Calkins tears down a leaflet from a northwest Reno signpost.

James W. Calkins tears down a leaflet from a northwest Reno signpost.

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

Jim Calkins seemed honestly befuddled as he analyzed the handbill that until recently was duct taped to a northwest Reno light pole.

Calkins is the main force behind the efforts to move gunfire, off-road vehicles and access to federal lands away from homes that border Peavine Mountain. He’s quite personable, apparently intelligent and probably correct in his assessment that there is gunfire allowed on Peavine that’s too close to homes and schools. In his lawyerly glasses, suit and tie, he’s not the kind of guy who you would expect to be on the receiving end of an anonymous and vaguely threatening handbill campaign.

The fact that all the words are spelled right on the handbills and the type size is bigger than Microsoft Word’s default font size indicated to Calkins that these were fairly sophisticated, computer-savvy terrorists. Whoever placed the handbills encased their call to action in plastic notebook inserts to protect the signs against the elements.

“All citizens of Nevada,” proclaims one. “James Calkins is stealing Peavine Mountain.” The handbill has a rain-run, multi-colored “ALERT,” and Calkins’ Truckee, Calif., law office number in big blue letters as a contact number. Although the handbill is partially torn, most of the group’s name is “Citizens for Justice.”

The Washoe County Commission is slated for a final vote on Nov. 26 that would increase the buffer zone between where it is legal to shoot guns and the growing northwest Reno residential area.

Since the commission in October voted in favor of the expanded buffer zone, it is likely that the no-fire zone will be expanded and the “congested area” lines redrawn to include some space for further growth. Law enforcement officials say the changes are enough to protect city residents from rural gunfire.

“We’ve moved those boundaries considerably up Peavine Mountain,” said Capt. Doug Gist, patrol division commander for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department. “In some points, as I understand it, they are well beyond that 5,000-foot point from current or some of the projected development.”

Gist said that enforcement of shooting laws has been stepped up in recent years, as development has encroached on the mountain.

“We’ve been frequenting that area and advising people of what the law is in regards to shooting and off-road vehicle use and trying to help out the residents as we get the laws changed and the boundaries moved. We’ve placed a lot of emphasis on that.

“I have an off-road enforcement team in which deputies work off dirt bikes and a four-wheel-drive patrol unit. Once the dirt-bike ordinance has been changed to include all off-road vehicles, we’ll attempt a very strong education campaign [to explain the change in laws].”

He said that deputies have been issuing warning citations.

Calkins plan is more ambitious than the one on the county commission’s table. He said he’ll continue to fight for an increased safe zone, no matter how the commission votes.

He would like to see the no-shooting area moved to 5,000 feet below the ridgeline—on the far side of Peavine. He would also like to see access to the lands decreased in northwest neighborhoods and off-road vehicle use decreased near the homes that border Peavine Mountain’s undeveloped areas.

A few blocks from the first flier, just up Kings Row, another handbill plucked from a signpost says, “JOIN TODAY, RIDE JAMES CALKINS OUT OF TOWN ON A RAIL. JOIN TODAY.” This one also has Calkins’ law office number, but with a different group claiming responsibility for this act of leafleting. This time the flier claims the name, “Peavine Action Committee.”

“What they’ve done is, they’ve posted these hate fliers with my phone number, so I get calls from these wackos, or at least one, who I think was actually involved in the leafleting, because he refused to identify himself,” Calkins said.

Calkins was uncertain as to why they would list his California office number rather than his home number, which is in the phone book and is on all the e-mails he sends out regularly. Still, he believes it’s these e-mails, and the success of candidates his group endorsed, that spurred the campaign against him.

“It’s a terrorist campaign that this group is engaged in,” Calkins said. “They are trying to threaten and intimidate us. They are not going through the legal process. We’ve spent a lot of time working to clean up Peavine and to stop the gunfire above the homes.

“We’ve attended public meetings; we’ve engaged in surveying candidates for office and what their positions are. We’ve gone through the legal process, the political process.”

Calkins said the Nov. 5 election put his opponents on notice and probably touched off the leafleting campaign.

“These people apparently feel threatened by the success of candidates that we supported in the recent election,” he said. “Eight of the 11 candidates we supported won their races. Without doing any work to present their position in a legal way, they’re coming in with these intimidation tactics to stop us from doing what we want to have done on Peavine.”

Calkins’ argument to press for an increased buffer zone between shooters and schoolchildren makes sense. Anyone who has passed a basic hunter safety course knows that a bullet fired from a .22 caliber rifle can travel more than a mile, even farther if shooting downhill. And if the shells Calkins has picked up near informal shooting ranges on the mountain are any indication, an accidental discharge toward Reno from a 30.06 rifle could travel triple the distance of the proposed buffer zone.

That’s where the issue gets a little spongy. There has never been a complaint of a stray bullet hitting a person or a home in the area.

“We used to shoot up there a lot,” said Frank Morreale, owner of the Gun Trader in Reno.

He said that he no longer shoots on Peavine, in part because of the controversy Calkins has generated, in part due to the influx of mountain bikers. This doesn’t make him happy, though.

“There have been people shooting up there for 50 years,” he said. It angers him that recent transplants want to change the Nevada way of life. The best comment regarding the issue, he said, came from former Reno City Councilman David Rigdon.

“Rigdon’s comment to [Calkins] was, ‘You came to Nevada to share in the experience, in other words, to share in the way we live, not to change the way we live.’ “

Morreale dismissed the notion that people could have bought homes bordering public lands not knowing that there are motorcycles and gun enthusiasts nearby.

“There are people shooting there every day of the week,” he said.

“It’s a mountain; it’s a rural area, people have been shooting out there for years. Calkins is no different from the guy who moves in next to the airport and then wants them to stop flying.”

Calkins, who has been in Nevada for one year and three months, said he is entitled to the same protections here as he is in any other part of the country.

Most Nevadans came from somewhere else, he said.