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Death at Niagara Gun Range was suicide, police believe

NORTH TONAWANDA – An Erie County man in his mid-30s apparently committed suicide early Sunday afternoon with a rented rifle at the Niagara Gun Range in North Tonawanda, police said.

With others standing close enough to see, the unidentified man shot himself above the neck and died, said Capt. Todd Ostrowski of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. He spoke outside the range at 3355 Niagara Falls Blvd.

The range was closed for the day after the shooting was reported to police at 12:33 p.m.

“This appears to be a suicide,” Ostrowski said, adding that the investigation is continuing and that the man’s name would be withheld until relatives were notified.

He thought the man went alone to the gun range. The surveillance tape would be reviewed by investigators, he said.

Attention to suicides with rented guns at firearms ranges has grown in recent years because rental customers often do not get the same kind of background check – including a mental health check – that gun buyers do.

In March, the Boston Globe reported on two people who rented guns and intentionally and simultaneously shot themselves in front of patrons at a range near the New Hampshire border.

They left behind a note on the back of a receipt in their car.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney said the Salisbury, Mass., range was the site of previous suicides in the last five years.

State laws vary, but renting guns at a private range can be a way around the background checks for people who want to buy, according to a 2014 article surveying the problem in Politico Magazine.

“It’s certainly not a foolproof system,” wrote Matt Valentine in “The Gun-Rental Loophole.”

According to its website, Niagara Gun Range requires “a valid form of government-issued photo ID” and range instructors accompany customers.

Enthusiasts can try guns out this way before making a purchase.

Features at Niagara Gun Range include programmable targets and eight, 50-yard shooting stations lined with bulletproof glass “to ensure shooter safety,” according to its website.

Patrons can shoot their own firearms or they can rent them.

The business also sells guns, ammunition, accessories and supplies and offers training and safety courses.

Owner Micheal Deasy declined to elaborate on the details Sunday afternoon until police finish their work. “I can’t talk until everybody leaves,” he said, looking grim.