Fifty-seven days and counting have passed since a public Northeast Florida shooting range has been closed.
The Lewis D. Whitaker Osceola Shooting Range in Lake City attracts hunters, gun owners and law enforcement with its target practice options.
The range is one of ten in Florida operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC).
FWC officials said the range is being evaluated for improvements and repairs to safety barriers on the property. A former contracted employee of the Osceola Range, Bobby Pafford, believes the repairs should have happened much sooner.
The 'closed' sign swinging on the range front gate was posted after state investigators found several violations.
Those investigations were prompted by complaints filed by Pafford who worked as a maintenance worker at the Osceola Range for eight years.
"Yes, I consider myself a whistle-blower because I'm tired of asking," Pafford told First Coast News.
In June, the state chose not to renew his employment contract. Afterward, Pafford filed complaints with outside agencies including FEMA, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida State Fire Marshal. He claimed he is being shown the door because of his previous demands to FWC management to fix problems on the range. He said problems involving the berms that divide ranges and catch bullets put the public at risk.
"Because of me complaining about safety out here, they told me it was non-negotiable...and I have been terminated, just because of all of this," Pafford said. "When you walk down the range on Range One and somebody crossfires on Range Two, the berms have deteriorated in such a manner, the bullets were landing around people down range."
Pafford showed First Coast News several emails and quotes for recommended work he sent to FWC dating back to 2015 but he says most of his complaining was verbal.
FWC's spokesperson Karen Parker said the range is closed until further notice.
"Public safety and the environment are top priorities for the FWC. We are working with outside consultants to evaluate the [range] and will assess any findings when they are available," Parker said. "The [range] was closed...to allow work to repair the berms, which eroded during last year's Hurricane Irma. Sodding will also be added to help prevent erosion of safety backstops."
The health department found an unsafe amount of raw sewage on the ground in an August 13 inspection. The state fire marshal found three fire hazards in a July 26 inspection involving overgrown vines and too few fire extinguishers.
Parker said these violations are "not major" and "out of an abundance of caution" they are keeping the range closed.
There were no reported injuries by the wayward bullets alleged by Pafford and two other former Osceola Range Safety Officers who talked to First Coast News.
However, there are few mandatory requirements in Florida on the upkeep or inspection of a shooting range's condition.
"There really aren't any government regulations," said ballistics expert Michael Knox. "Most of the firearms range designs that are out there are voluntary standards."
Knox, a forensic science and criminology consultant, has served as an expert witness is court hearings involving people injured by bullets at shooting ranges.
Knox explained insurance policies and groups like the NRA have guidelines for shooting ranges to follow. He said often gun ranges will have safety officers on hand but he said the public-run Osceola range has less oversight than its private counterparts.
"You can certainly inquire at any range, what are the safety standards, what is in place here?" Knox said.
First Coast News asked FWC for their prior inspections before 2018 and the reason Pafford's contract was not renewed. Parker said they are still working on providing that information.