NRA gun debate

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors faced several residents opposed to amending the weapons and explosives ordinance in 2018.

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors has advanced a proposal aimed at curbing incidents where stray gunfire strikes homes or lands in adjacent properties.

The measure, discussed Nov. 7, follows several cases in which stray bullets have reportedly crossed property lines and, in some cases, struck people. A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Blue Ridge Supervisor Tony Buffington (R) last week made the substitute motion, shadowing an initial proposal to include berming or backstops from Broad Run Supervisor Ron Meyer (R). Buffington’s motion that “provides the discharge of firearms for recreational or target shooting purposes shall be conducted in such a manner as to ensure projectiles do not leave the boundaries of the property or parcel upon which the shooting is occurring unless permission” has been given by the adjacent property owner passed 6-3. Meyer, Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) and Sterling Supervisor Koran Saines (D) opposed the measure. (See both motions below.)

Buffington said requiring a berm is not an answer and “does not work.” Requiring any form of berming would be a problem if challenged in court, Buffington said.

County staff has researched the idea of requiring target shooters to use berms, backstops or natural features to capture bullets from the discharge of their firearms.

Staff recommended that new language contain projectile discharge to the limits of the property of which the discharge occurred.

“... Let’s remove that whole part and just say if you’re bullet ends up outside of your property, [and] you don’t have permission from the adjacent property owner then you’ve violated the law,” Buffington said. “I don’t think any responsible gun owner would have a problem with us doing that, and there’s no issue with that from legal [counsel].”

Meyer said his motion would help prosecutors dealing with stray gunfire.

“We need that method of containment so these things can be prosecuted,” Meyer said. “The prosecutors have not been able to prove the individual who shot the gun, and that’s not what we should be trying to prove. What we should be trying to prove is that there was a group or individuals shooting without a proper method of containment, and all those people – once a bullet leaves the property – could be in violation of this ordinance. That's the whole point … to give the prosecutors more tools so they can stop people who are bad actors.”

Meyer’s colleagues disagreed with his calls for berms and backstops. Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) called it subjective.

“We are trying to create something that is so subjective, so unenforceable and so non-prosecutable that we’ve got to quit doing that. We have to pass something that is clean with the commonwealth’s attorney,” Buona said. “We all want to solve the problem, we know there is a problem, we all want to solve the problem, but we have to do it with some commonsense and knowledge of firearms ...”

Buffington added that his motion that excludes “a method of containment” supports the board’s goal.

“This accomplishes the goal, and the goal is to keep bullets which are discharged on private property on that same property. Those bullets should not leave your property unless you have permission from the adjacent landowner where they are being fired into," Buffington said.

On a few occasions during the meeting, board members referred to their communications with interim Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann about her feedback on the proposals.

Dulles Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R) said he was frustrated no one has consulted with commonwealth’s attorney over the past several months until shortly before the meeting.

The board’s motion calls for Wittmann to attend the December public hearing and be consulted on the amendment considerations.

Randall said a lproblem for investigators is that in such cases shooters have been using the same gun.

“...if we say that is a prima facie evidence of the bullets leaving the property ending up in somebody else’s living room, but we can’t identify who did the shooting anyway so that no one gets charged with anything that’s quite the big loophole that we could just drive a car through for that issue,” Randall said.

Under the weapons and explosives section of the county ordinance, the discharge of a firearm within 100 yards of an occupied building is prohibited unless the owner has been given permission. Discharge is also prohibited within 50 yards of primary and secondary roads.

A September incident of stray gunfire led to a woman being struck in Hamilton. Since 2018, at least eight homes in Loudoun County have been struck by errant gunfire.

A report from county staff and the sheriff’s office showed that there have been 20 instances in which stray bullets have crossed property lines dating back to Nov. 30, 2016.

"Quite frankly I’m tired of defferring this while people get their homes shot up or the last time a lady gets hit in the arm,” Leesburg Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D) said. “I just want to do something that will prevent these reckless shooters from shooting up their neighbor’s property or shooting up their neighbors."

________

Supervisor Ron Meyer's motion: 

“ … that the Board of Supervisors approve an amendment change to Chapter 684.03 of the Codified Ordinances of Loudoun County Discharge of Firearms which provides no person shall discharge a firearm for recreational or target shooing purposes without methods to contain the projectile within the boundaries of property or parcel as defined in this chapter upon which the discharge occurs unless permission to do so has been granted by the adjacent landowner, a projectile leaving the boundaries of the property or parcel shall be prima facie evidence violation of this section. Direct staff to prepare and advertisement for the Dec. 11 public hearing.”

Supervisor Tony Buffington's substitute motion:

“ … that the Board of Supervisors approve an amendment change to Chapter 684.03 of the Codified Ordinances of Loudoun County Discharge of Firearms which provides the discharge of firearms for recreational or target shooting purposes shall be conducted in such a manner as to ensure projectiles do not leave the boundaries of the property or parcel upon which the shooting is occurring unless permission to do so has been granted by the adjacent landowner, a projectile leaving the boundaries of the property or parcel shall be prima facie evidence violation of this section. Direct staff to prepare and advertisement for the Dec. 11 public hearing. Before the public hearing, direct staff to consult with the commonwealth's attorney as to the prosecutability of any proposed ordinances as well as request, as well as request, the attorney to attend the board’s public hearing on Dec. 11.”

______________

Timeline:

Stray gunfire has become an increasing concern in Loudoun County. Here's a rundown of the issue over the past 18 months:

-May 6, 2018: Three homes in Loudoun hit by stray bullets from a machine gun traveling a third of a mile. No charges were brought forth because law enforcement could not determine which of the four people fired the firearm.

-June 21, 2018: Proposal to change the county's weapons and explosives ordinance turned down. A working group is formed to study the safety concerns identified by the board.

-Dec. 4, 2018: Board of Supervisors opts against ordinance change, passes on working group report, sends matter to Land Use and Transportation Committee for review. At least eight incidents of stray gunfire striking a building reported since May.

-Feb. 25: Land use committee considers requiring target shooters to use backstops to capture gun discharges. Committee recommended the board update Section 684.03(d) of the county’s codified ordinance to include the 100-yard discharge ban for all occupied structures. Item stalled.

-April 29: Times-Mirror learns via email from county staff that the firearm safety is expected to be on the land use committee agenda in May.

-May 28: Item not included on agenda for land use committee.

-Sept. 8: A woman reports being struck by an errant bullet in the 39600 block of Gable Farm Lane between Leesburg and Hamilton. Woman treated for minor injuries. Sheriff's office says a charge is pending.

-Sept. 24: Land use committee forwards firearms ordinance amendment to full board; measure would require some form of backstop for private shooting

-Nov. 7: Board of Supervisors directs staff to advertise for ordinance change to include ‘bullet trespass’ language.

(12) comments

BobOhneiserEsq

How about considering a different angle directed at the real problem including school safety. Let's start with the assumption that guns should not be in certain places and typically they are more dangerous and inappropriate to use when they are anywhere other than in one's own home or on one's own property

(at least 100 yards from the nearest occupied house or a road according to the current law.) Its' not that it is per se illegal to allow a gun to be mobile but isn't that where probable cause arises to justify a police stop? Should we consider requiring manufacturers of guns put in an RFID chip with GPS so any time a gun is anywhere it is not supposed to be the police are notified even if it is not used yet. If a gun arrives in a car at a local school isn't it socially acceptable for the police to be able to stop that car and ask what is the intent of bringing the gun on school grounds etc. What is the intent of bringing a gun to the edge of one's property when using it there could be a violation of the state statute already on the book? Are we really going to be surprised when the user of a gun that hits someone says it wasn't target practice but self defense or shooting at a deer etc? Wouldn't the VT shooter been stopped if the police knew his gun was on campus? Couldn't the Newtown shooter been stopped if the police knew that weapon was moving from a home to an elementary school? Let's stop looking for ways to forensically figure out who shot a gun inappropriately and STOP the shooting of the gun inappropriately especially when it could prevent multiple deaths in seconds of being used.

ace10

A couple of questions and then a real life scenario. What would happen to the 400 million lawfully-owned firearms in the United States which do not have an embedded monitoring device? What would happen to the illegally-possessed firearms that are used in the vast majority of violent crimes? Now, let's consider a school shooting which didn't happen because it was stopped by on-site police officers. Charles Landeros, an Antifa member in Oregon, brought a handgun and ammunition into a school earlier this year. He was in the midst of a custody dispute with his ex wife. He tried to murder the Police officers who were in the process of removing him for trespassing on school property. The LEOs didn't know he was armed, as it was concealed. If his pistol had an embedded monitoring device, surely the police would have known he was armed, right? Well. Michael Faraday figured out a work around nearly two centuries ago. And now one can get on the internet to purchase signal blocking fabric or a signal blocking bag or backpack. Surely an effective holster could be made with very little effort. Technology is not a panacea.

Lawman

Hilarious or a crying shame that in this backwards State, people can shoot a gun, damage property or injure persons, and the only discussion we are not having is how long their butts should be in jail. You might have the right to own a gun, but, you don't have a constitutional right to discharge it as you see fit. Hopefully the new board and legislature will place criminal jeopardy on the reckless discharge of firearms.

Loudounest

What is "recreational" shooting? Is it OK to shoot your neighbors house if you are hunting or in self defense? Let's face it the only ordinance that would meet the expectations and be easily managed is "No Discharge" of firearms, period. Anything else is just a feel good ordinance!

Chris McHale

Do you think a discharge is self defense should be prohibited?

ace10

At least this gun grabber is being transparent... Law abiding citizens shouldn't discharge a firearm under ANY circumstance. And I'm gonna guess that they're perfectly OK with violent criminals not following the same ordinance.

Loudounest

If you read the article you might notice there are 8 houses shot and 1 woman wounded listed with dates! The law abiding vs criminal did what is an old and lame counterpoint. If you lived in Loudon you might realize we enjoy an environment of mostly law abiding taxpayers, no dark alleys or gunfights. I will go on a limb and assume that the houses and woman were law abiding and not threatening the shooter? I also assume the shooters prior to the incidents were law abiding as well and not criminals. This is a safety discussion as a time creep of the county approved increase in density residences, highways and taxpayers in western Loudoun over the past 30-40 years that now have placed them in harms way. (see list of 8 houses and 1 wounded). At our current density level (and growing) the state minimum laws fall short for higher density locales. I hope this is the actual discussion on supplementing the state laws with local ordinances (permitted by the state) that make common sense and work toward protecting the property animals and taxpayers in western Loudoun.

ace10

Is it not true that you earlier stated the desire to create an County ordinance to prohibit the discharge of a firearm in any and all circumstances, including self defense?

AFF

I tell you what- that neckwitch with the yellow NRA shirt is the best advertisement for local gun ordinances going. I hope he comes to the BOS meetings for the entirety of the term.

JoshM

Your comment really adds to the discussion. That "neckwitch" (what a hideous term) could very well be in favor of the reasonable resolution proposed in this article, assuming you read it...

AFF

Because you often meet people decked out in full NRA regalia who support reasonable gun legislation? Do tell.

Agreed. If that large fellow wants to wear a shirt that shows he belongs to the NRA death cult that's his business and his alone. We can find it disturbing but this is America and he's within his rights...as we are.

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