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Neighborhood wants ban on shooting firearms

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Residents of a Warren County subdivision say the shooting in the neighborhood must stop.

The property owners association for Thunderbird Farms requested that the county add its neighborhood to the growing list of subdivisions allowed to ban the shooting of firearms. If approved by the county Board of Supervisors, Thunderbird Farms would become one of nearly a dozen neighborhoods in which shooting firearms, for practice or any other reason other than for personal protection, is prohibited.

The supervisors at their meeting Tuesday authorized staff to schedule the required public hearing on the request.

Assistant County Attorney Dan N. Whitten explained Friday that the subdivision representatives can ask the board for inclusion into the ordinance that prohibits shooting of firearms. The subdivision is not seeking inclusion in the separate ordinance that prohibits hunting, Whitten said.

County officials consider each request on a case-by-case basis and look at factors such as population density to reach a decision on whether or not to include the subdivision in the prohibition, according to Whitten.

The property owners association met Oct. 27 and voted to make the request to the county. The association's covenants prohibit the shooting of firearms except for self defense.

"We are finding that the Covenants are not sufficient to protect our residents," Sharon Fisher, the association president, states in a Nov. 12 letter to the board. "There have been several recent incidents of reckless discharge of firearms."

The Warren County Sheriff's Office responded to a report of rifle shots fired into a resident's back yard in the late evening of Sept. 24. Shots also were reported fired from a moving pickup into another homeowner's property at approximately 9:30 a.m. Oct. 23 according to the letter.

The letter states that, "based on the increasing population density and incidents," the Sheriff's Office recommended that the association petition supervisors "for the additional protection that would be offered from being listed in Section 177-3."

State code allows counties to designate certain areas where shooting firearms is prohibited. However, the county cannot issue a ban on shooting that covers the entire locality, as is the case in cities. For example, discharging a firearm is illegal within the Winchester city limits and a violation can result in a misdemeanor conviction.

But as Whitten explained, a violation of the county ordinance can lead to a conviction of a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The prohibition does not apply to air- or gas-operated weapons that have no component involving an explosive charge, detonation, ignition, gunpowder or other flammable or explosive device, according to the ordinance.

The ban does not apply to law enforcement officers performing in their official duties or to anyone whose act is "justifiable or excusable at law in the protection of his life or property."

Warren County adopted an ordinance in 1995 that prohibits shooting of all firearms in designated locations. The county bars shooting in areas so heavily populated as to make such action dangerous to the inhabitants.

The county later added Skyline Estates, Shenandoah Shores and the Skyview section of Aspen Hill Farms to the ordinance barring the shooting of firearms in those areas. The county has since added Lake Front Royal, Blue Mountain and Apple Mountain Lake South subdivisions.

Supervisors most recently added High Knob subdivision to the list in August 2008 and Stonewall Estates in July 2009, according to the ordinance.

Signs that designate the boundaries of subdivisions under the prohibition must be erected where reasonably seen, the ordinance states.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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