Judge orders arrest of gun training center owner in Vermont

Jul 6, 2023, 2:43 PM

FILE - Daniel Banyai, the owner of Slate Ridge Vermont, speaks to supporters, April 17, 2021, in We...

FILE - Daniel Banyai, the owner of Slate Ridge Vermont, speaks to supporters, April 17, 2021, in West Pawlet, Vt., during a Second Amendment Day Picnic at the unpermitted gun range and firearms training center. A judge on Thursday, July 6, 2023, ordered Banyai arrested until he proves that parts of the 30-acre facility has been removed or demolished. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

(AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

A judge on Thursday ordered the owner of a controversial firearms training center in Vermont arrested until he proves that parts of the 30-acre facility have been removed or demolished.

The property, known as Slate Ridge, includes multiple buildings and two firing ranges on land about the size of 30 football fields (12 hectares). Fueled by complaints from neighbors, the town of Pawlet has attempted unsuccessfully for several years to get the facility owner Daniel Banyai to remove structures he built without a permit.

The order from the Vermont Environmental Court is the latest attempt to hold Banyai accountable, after he accrued more than $100,000 in fines so far this year. The arrest, which can be carried out by a constable or county sheriff, must happen in the next 60 days.

Banyai could not be reached for comment, and his lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment. A lawyer for Pawlet would not comment on the order.

Slate Ridge neighbors have long complained about the gunfire and what they say are threats and intimidation by Banyai and his supporters. Many neighbors say they are afraid to talk publicly because they fear for their safety.

In April 2021, Banyai described his property to The Associated Press as a safe and environmentally friendly place for people to discharge their firearms. The facility also offers lessons in first aid and “anything to do with the outdoors and firearms.”

In 2019, the town first issued a violation notice to Banyai for building a number of structures on the property without town zoning approval. In March 2021, the Environmental Court ordered Banyai to end any firearms training at the center and remove unpermitted structures.

The Vermont Supreme Court rejected Banyai’s appeal in January 2022.

In response to Slate Ridge, Vermont State Sen. Philip Baruth, a Democrat and Progressive from Burlington, introduced a bill in the Legislature this year to ban paramilitary training centers in the state. The bill passed and was signed in May by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

Violators face up to five years in prison or a fine up to $50,000 or both, according to the law. It prohibits a person from teaching, training, or demonstrating to anyone else the use, application, or making of a firearm, explosive, or incendiary device capable of causing injury or death that will be used in or in furtherance of a civil disorder. It also bans a person from assembling with others for such training, instruction or practice.

Banyai bought the property in 2013. In 2017, he began operating what he calls a firearms training facility, though the property is only permitted for a garage with an apartment on the grounds.

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Judge orders arrest of gun training center owner in Vermont