Owner says he won’t dismantle shooting center as ordered
WEST PAWLET, Vt. (AP) — The owner of an unpermitted firearms training center that has rattled neighbors in a southern Vermont town says he won’t comply with a judge’s order to dismantle much of the facility he has built.
Daniel Banyai said he is looking for “the proper constitutional attorney” to appeal a Vermont Environmental Court order that he dismantle all structures on the property that were built without permits in the town near the New York border. He has until May 5 to appeal.
“We are not going to do that,” Banyai said when asked about the order during a weekend event at the center he calls Slate Ridge Vermont. “We have not done anything wrong, we haven’t done anything illegal.”
Banyai describes his property as a safe and environmentally friendly place for people to discharge their firearms. The facility also offer lessons in first aid and “anything to do with the outdoors and firearms.”
At the Saturday event, called a 2nd Amendment Picnic, a number of people brought their firearms. Many shot handguns, and a smaller number fired AR-15 rifles on a Slate Ridge firing range.
Neighbors have complained for some time about gunfire at the facility and what they claimed were threats and intimidation by Banyai and his supporters. Many of the neighbors of Slate Ridge say they are afraid to talk publicly because of fears for their safety.
State public safety officials say they are aware of the situation but cannot take action because there is no evidence of criminal activity.
“I’m labeled as the most dangerous man in the state of Vermont,” Banyai said. But he said he didn’t “believe in violence in that sense.”
“I will not comply, but there’s other people that take their Second Amendment rights far more serious than I am, right?” he said.
Pawlet is a rural town of about 1,300 people in the Taconic Mountains of western Vermont, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Albany, New York.
Banyai, 51, a native of Hyde Park, New York, said he felt that since he moved to Pawlet as an outsider the close-knit community has rejected him. He chose Vermont because of its lax gun laws.
Pawlet asked a judge to hold Banyai in contempt for refusing to obey the March 4 order that he end training activities on the property, have the structures there surveyed and remove any buildings that were constructed without local zoning permits. He was fined $46,000.
The 30-acre property property is only permitted to have a garage with an apartment.
Banyai began operating the firearms training facility sometime in 2017. Around that time, he erected a 500-square-foot structure to serve as the training center and a number of outdoor shooting ranges, all without necessary zoning permits.
The March decision by Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin said Banyai claimed to have made $1.6 million in improvements to the property since he purchased it in 2013.
Banyai “intentionally used the unpermitted structures for the very purposes prohibited by the Court, and has invited media to document his violations of this Court’s Order,” Pawlet Town Attorney Merrill Bent said in a court filing Wednesday.
Another filing Thursday included an email exchange between Bent and Banyai meant to arrange the details of the court-ordered surveying. Banyai answered Bent by saying “Your messages threaten me” and included a number of expletives.
Banyai said Friday that the event last weekend was a picnic and didn’t violate the judge’s order. No admission was charged and no firearms training occurred.
“If the town of Pawlet believes that having a picnic on your land, consuming food with friends and family and shooting guns is illegal, we’ll just have to put it into the hands of the court,” he said.
The people who attended, including children, came from Vermont and surrounding states. The shooters, men and women, took turns at the firing range overseen by a range safety officer whose job was to ensure the shooting was done safely.
“I love this facility,” Jesse Gramling, of White River Junction, said during the event. “I’ve been coming here for almost two years now. I believe it is a very beneficial place for shooters of all skill sets and levels, and I figured it would be a nice way to come out and spend a Saturday.”