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Family ordered to stop shooting guns on McHenry County Conservation District land

Conservation district files lawsuit calling gun range operation a ‘nuisance’

A judge has ordered a family living in unincorporated Harvard to stop shooting guns into a wooded area owned by the McHenry County Conservation District.

McHenry County Judge Michael Chimel granted a request from the conservation district Monday to issue a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction prohibiting Dennis Brinkman, Tracy Brinkman and Debra Brinkman from operating a shooting range on their property in the 2100 block of Paulson Road, according to court records.

Dennis Brinkman declined to comment.

“We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public,” MCCD Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said. “No one should be shooting into conservation district land.”

The lawsuit characterized the activities on the property as a “nuisance.” The court filing followed Dennis Brinkman’s May 16 visit to district offices at Brookdale Conservation Area.

He showed up, according to court records, to tell officials “he was going to be conducting another shooting event.”

The next day, the conservation district sent a reply outlining the law as it relates to shooting guns at a conservation site.

“I will remind you it is against district ordinances for anyone to shoot into any conservation district property along with the possibility of multiple state violations, including but not limited to reckless discharge of a firearm,” operations and public safety director John Kremer wrote.

Dennis Brinkman replied the next day with a note written on Kremer’s letter.

“I stopped by simply as a courtesy to you,” he wrote. “You had closed the trail at times. I didn’t direct anyone to close the trail. Horseback riders are 100 times more likely to be hurt by the horse than by my being a neighbor.”

Kessler and the conservation district closed the trails before Memorial Day weekend.

“The trails were closed out of concern for the public,” Kessler said.

The Brinkmans have a history with neighbors who for years have complained about noise from the gun range in their backyard. The land, just east of Brookdale Conservation Area, abuts a trail for horse riders. In 2015, the conservation district closed the stretch of it behind the Brinkman home out of concern that a horse or rider could be shot by accident.

Last month, the district “used metal detectors on trees in the conservation area and determined that a number of bullets were lodged in the trees, and the direction of fire relative to these bullets would have been from the Brinkman property,” the lawsuit said.

Dennis Brinkman and his family must file a response to the lawsuit in July. McHenry County officials now are in the process of drafting a new noise and firearm ordinance to curb nuisance complaints related to shooting.

“This is about safety,” McHenry County Board member John Reinert said. “You can’t have a person firing into conservation department property.”

Most municipalities have ordinances forbidding the discharge of a firearm except at approved ranges or in self-defense. In unincorporated McHenry County, where lot sizes tend to be much larger, the County Board could be tasked with a delicate dance of crafting an ordinance that will address the matter without unduly restricting a specifically protected constitutional right.

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