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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hanover Considering More Gun Restrictions

Once again, residents of a rural locality that is fast becoming more suburban has gun owners in their crosshairs. Some residents of Hanover have complained about noise from gun owners target practicing on their private property. In response, the Hanover Board of Supervisors has created a Weapons Safety Committee.

The Committee will formally make several recommendations to the supervisors at their meeting tonight (June 25th). The proposed changes would not affect legally permitted firing ranges.

The eight-member committee includes two county supervisors, as well as gun owners and residents with gun-related concerns. The committee members will urge the board to enact the following:
  • Prohibit shooting within 200 yards of any home, not counting the shooter's home, or any other occupied building or public meeting place. The county's code now specifies 100 yards. The proposal would not change the part of the code that prohibits shooting within 100 yards of roads.
  • Prohibit shooting within the urban service area, except when hunting legally with shotguns or firing in self-defense. The urban service area includes Mechanicsville and other parts of eastern Hanover.
  • Expand the urban service area to make it consistent with the county's comprehensive plan. That would include parts of Creighton and Cold Harbor roads in the Hanover Farms subdivision, and also a portion of the county near New Ashcake Road west of U.S. 301 and east of Sliding Hill Road.
  • Amend the county's noise ordinance to prohibit "the frequent, habitual or prolonged discharge of firearms" in a way that unreasonably disturbs "the use and enjoyment" of other properties.
  • Offer firearm-safety classes to the public.
  • People accused of violating the proposed noise ordinance could face a misdemeanor criminal charge. A judge would determine whether such shooting constitutes an unreasonable disturbance.

Hanover officials say the recommendations are meant to address complaints from residents who say "they can't go to sleep or hear their televisions because of gunfire."

The Chairman of the Weapons Committee, Supervisor Charles D. McGhee, told the Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) that "Hanover County is not like it was in 1965,"you didn't have the culture clashes."

The Hanover sheriff's office told the RTD that it received 139 reports of "promiscuous shooting" from Jan. 1 through Friday of this year. Authorities received 339 such reports last year.
The RTD spoke to a resident of Hanover, Bryan Law, who lives near the area that is the source of some of the complaints. Law lives on the 15-acre property off Georgetown Road. His son and a friend were practicing their shooting skills with what the RTD described as "an AK-47 assault rifle" and a World War II bolt-action rifle, he said, and they have since joined the military.
Law said that after neighbors complained, he agreed to fire only his smaller and quieter .22-caliber rifle, which neighbors do not object to.

Law told the RTD that he tries to get along with all the neighbors and understands their complaints. He also told the RTD that he does not thank the recommended changes would affect his ability to shoot his .22-caliber rifle on his property, although the larger weapons might violate the proposed amendment to the noise ordinance. Law said he might have to move his usual shooting location somewhere else on his property to make sure it is at least 200 yards from a neighbor's house.

VSSA will follow the process closely and keep members informed.

Update - The committee presented its findings at a regularly scheduled Board meeting on June 25th. The Board decided to consider the committee’s recommendations in the form of a draft ordinance change to be considered at a future meeting.

“We’ve been receiving complaints over the course of time about what the sheriff’s department considers to be promiscuous shooting,” Henry District Supervisor and weapons safety committee chairman Chuck McGhee told the Mechanicsville Local newspaper.

County attorney Sterling Rives presented the committee’s findings at the meeting and several recommendations gained majority approval among the committee members. They include:

  • Changing the current county code to prohibit discharging weapons within the urban service area, of the county. Lawful hunting with a shotgun would still be allowed.
  • Amend the county code to prohibit discharge of weapons within 200 yards of any residential dwelling or public building.
  • Amend the county code to include habitual or prolonged discharge of weapons under the noise ordinance section.

The committee had considered a fourth revision but voted not to recommend that change. That proposal would have clearly defined shooting ranges in the county code.

The board could consider the first draft of the new ordnances at its July 23 meeting, and a public hearing could come as early as September.

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