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Spotsy delays action on shooting ordinance
[January 09, 2013]

Spotsy delays action on shooting ordinance

Jan 08, 2013 (The Free Lance-Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Spotsylvania County residents can't shoot guns in subdivisions just yet.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night tabled its planned vote on a proposal that would allow the firing of guns in subdivisions on lots of more than 5 acres.

Board members asked for more information--such as whether the county could require shooters to have backstops--to be presented at their Jan. 22 meeting and may make a decision then.

It's currently illegal to fire guns in any subdivision in Spotsylvania regardless of lot sizes.

Eight of the 13 residents who spoke at a public hearing on the issue were against the proposed code changes as written. They had safety and noise concerns, and some wondered how the new ordinance would be enforced.

"If you supervisors have decided that there are no safety issues I can only conclude that you have managed to invoke some sort of magic spell that will cause a bullet to stop all forward motion when it reaches the property line of a 5-acre lot and just fall to the ground," resident Victor Szabo said.

Ann Melle, another speaker at the public hearing, said she owns 6 acres, but her lot is only 200 feet wide. The county, she said, needs to restrict shooting within a set number of feet or yards from homes and other structures.

"Five acres is far too small," she said. "At the very least, you should be considering 10 acres." Spotsylvania resident Robert Herron told the board that maybe the county could add language to the ordinance that would address the issue of bullets flying over property lines. But overall, he said, he's supportive of the proposed changes.

"We have a fundamental right to enjoy our property," said Herron, speaking on behalf of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

County Attorney Jacob Stroman said state law gives local governments "very limited authority" to regulate firearms. So he's not sure if the county can mandate berms or other shooting backstops, but said he would report back to the board at its next meeting.

Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely, who also spoke at the meeting, said state law prohibits people from shooting bullets across highways or into homes. And he told The Free Lance-Star that he's prosecuted people for reckless handling of firearms, another state law, when they've shot bullets across property lines.

"This is just another arrow in the quiver," he said of the proposed ordinance.

Stroman said Neely and Sheriff Roger Harris have indicated the proposed ordinance is enforceable.

Board members have been discussing the issue for about one year. They originally voted to consider an ordinance that would allow residents of subdivisions to shoot on their property if they live on lots of more than 1 acre. A lot of residents had safety concerns with that proposal, so supervisors increased the proposed minimum lot size to more than 5 acres.

Stroman said the issue surfaced when his office learned that the current ordinance may be vulnerable in court because it doesn't define a subdivision. The proposed ordinance says a subdivision is any housing development that has a plat on file with the Circuit Court. That wouldn't include a lot that has been subdivided by a property owner to sell or give to an immediate family member.

The proposal doesn't include pneumatic weapons--such as BB and paint ball guns--in its definition of a firearm. The county has another ordinance for those guns, which are not banned in subdivisions.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402 ___ (c)2013 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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