Gun control fears boost enrollment at Manhattan's only commercial gun range

People are popping off rounds beneath the busy streets of Manhattan. The stench of burnt gunpowder fills the air. Paper targets twitch from incoming bullets. And shell casings clank with each ear-piercing bang from the shooters in their booths.

It’s just another day at West Side Rifle and Pistol Range, Manhattan’s only commercial gun range and one of the few places where people can practice using firearms legally in the New York City area. Hundreds of clients shoot there, many of them police officers.

Despite the limitations within New York City, owner Darren Leung says fear of the government and the possibility of more gun restrictions is what really helps drive his business.

“We’ve often said that our government is our best gun seller,” he says. “Every time they say something people go crazy and they start running out and buying a lot.”

The range first opened in 1965 in the basement of an otherwise standard Manhattan office building. Leung has since taken the reins and says he has a lot of fun running the business. But he says it’s also about furthering education.

“It really makes us feel good that we can actually entertain and educate the population about enjoying firearms and not being afraid of them and not saying that it’s a bad thing,” he says. “It’s a sport and people should enjoy the sport and people should try to understand it a little bit better.”

In addition to the general public, many of Leung's clients are police officers. “We welcome our friends in law enforcement any time they come down,” Leung says. The NYPD Police Academy is a few blocks away, and Leung says the instructors often tell trainees to the visit range because it’s so close. The recommendations have helped sustain a long-standing relationship with local law enforcement.

Leung says some of his clients have been coming to the range for decades and that many of them are close friends.

“Lifelong friends I would say. Some of these folks have been to my house,” he says. “Because I want them to come and see how it is with me and enjoy my family too we have annual barbecues and have a bunch of people come out.”

And Leung’s family is an important part of the gun range’s future. He says he wants his two young children to eventually take over the business.