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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Virginia Localities Continue to Attack Gun Owners

Over the last four years, Virginia gun owners have come under attack. Not by the Governor or the General Assembly, but by local boards of supervisors and local planning commissions. Since 2003, Middlesex County, Nelson County, Culpeper County, Hanover County, Albemarle County, Louisa County, and Rockbridge County, have all tried to pass restrictions on our right to shoot on private property. Some of these have been successful. Middlesex County limited the activity of a club to hold shooting competitions because the club has “hunting” in its name and thus considered any other activities involving firearms to be outside the approved activities of the club. In the case of Nelson County, the Board encouraged a shooting preserve that was looking to expand to remain within the county, only to then severely restrict their activity after the owners purchased the tract of land that would have suited their expansion plans. Culpeper County’s Board of Supervisors tried to limit the ability of property owners to shoot on private property tracts less than 20 acres in size. After receiving noise complaints from residents who had relocated near the range from more urban localities, Hanover County tried to regulate Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club out of business. Albemarle County is still considering restrictions on shooting after an incident where a county resident shot a neighbor’s cat. More recently, both Louisa and Rockbridge County tried to restrict shooting on private property.

In 2005, VSSA drafted legislation (HB 2282) to protect shooting ranges by establishing a state-wide noise standard. Localities would have been prohibited from shutting down a shooting range, or denying the application for new shooting ranges as long as the noise level did not exceed the state-wide standard. The legislation was based on a successful effort by the state of Arizona to establish a noise standard to protect shooting ranges. The bill passed the House of Delegates with little fanfare. However, by the time the bill was heard in the State Senate, the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) put on a full court press, driven by Nelson County, to defeat the bill. In the end, the statewide noise standard was removed, but language was passed in to law that stated “no locality shall submit a sport shooting range to noise control standards more stringent than those in effect at the time an application was submitted for construction or operation of the range.” The prior law referred to the time of construction, not the time of application. While this was not all that VSSA had hoped for, it was a start. The bill was patroned by Delegate Bill Janis, a VSSA member.

In 2006, Delegate Chris Saxman sponsored a bill (HB1537) that stated “no property that is within a sport shooting range shall be condemned except in accordance with general law.” Further, owners of sport shooting ranges would have been allowed to relocate any condemned portion of their shooting range within the jurisdiction of the condemning authority and any sport shooting range that relocated, or any owner would have had the same rights, powers, and privileges, with respect to the range, that existed prior to the condemnation. What passed was substantially different. The final version of the bill stated that any shooting range operating or approved for construction in the Commonwealth, that relocated to another site in the same locality, due to condemnation action, would not be subjected to any noise control standard more stringent than those in effect when the sport shooting range was originally approved for construction or began operating, whichever was earlier. The bill also prohibited a locality from subjecting a shooting range to noise control standards that are more stringent than the standards existing at the time the range was originally approved for construction or began operating, whichever was earlier. The original bill would have allowed a range to locate in any locality and not face more stringent noise standards but again, VACO lobbied hard and the State Senate amended the bill. Believing something that move us to a positive position was better than nothing, we again settled for less than we originally wanted.

Finally, in the 2007 Session of the General Assembly, VSSA member Delegate Bill Janis went to bat for the shooting sports community by sponsoring HB3109. This bill would have made the discharge of a firearm towards a subdivision within the range of the firearm, or to discharge a firearm towards any person or structure, when no barrier exists that would prevent the projectile from striking a person or structure, a Class 1 misdemeanor. The important part of the bill however was that with these changes, a locality would no longer be able to prohibit hunting generally within a half-mile radius of a subdivision, but would still be able to prohibit hunting within a subdivision. Again, the bill moved through the House of Delegates with relative ease. It finally made it out of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on the last day committee action could be taken, only to be defeated by a parliamentary procedure on the floor by former firearm community friend, Senator Russ Potts, in one last thumb of his nose after announcing he was not running for re-election.

What all of these bills have in common is that VACO made a full court press attempt to defeat the bills once they moved to the State Senate. VACO has virtually unlimited resources compared to VSSA. Very little of our member dues go to lobbying and the fundraising that we do comes no where near the amount of resources that are available to VACO through the dues paid by the member localities. VSSA needs your help. First, we need the support of every Virginia Gun Owner as well as every VSSA member to contribute to the VSSA War Chest. This is the fund we use for legislative action. Second, we need every Virginia gun owner to become a VSSA member and we need every VSSA member to recruit a new member. The larger our numbers, the louder our voice. Finally, we need every gun owner in Virginia with an email address to join our Grassroots Alert email list. By keeping you informed of actions that affect your gun rights, we can continue our recent successes in Culpeper, Louisa, and Rockbridge. You can join our Grassroots Alert list by sending an email to Raymond.Cahen@myvssa.org.

The threat to our gun rights is real. It is coming from us at the local level. We need your help to insure we can win the battles when they happen. Join VSSA and add your voice to other Virginia gun owners. If we stand together, we can win.

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