By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - A proposed ban on shooting guns in a Warren County neighborhood split residents over safety and gun rights.
The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Tuesday on a request by the property owners' association of Thunderbird Farms to add the neighborhood to those in the county in which shooting firearms is prohibited.
But several property owners questioned the process and claimed the association did not represent their views.
After the lengthy public hearing, supervisors decided to table the request. Supervisor Richard H. Traczyk recommended that the property owners' association survey residents about their feelings on the proposed ban.
Sharon Fisher, association president, told the board about two recent incidents of shooting of firearms into private property that spurred members to vote to seek inclusion into the prohibited areas.
Fisher noted that a representative of the Warren County Sheriff's Office who appeared at the homeowner's association meeting in October recommended the group make the request. Members of the association who attended the meeting voted unanimously in favor of making the request.
The association took steps to inform all residents of the public hearing on the matter, Fisher said.
"We're just asking to partner with the Sheriff's Office to be able to enforce in a community where people home educate, where your children are in the yard," Fisher said.
"This was recommended by the sheriff," Fisher added. "We're not trying to take away anybody's rights. We're not trying to change anything."
Teresa Lamb told the board about someone coming on to her property and shooting and injuring a deer. She said deputies responded, found the deer and had to put it down.
"If you're going to shoot, please shoot in a safe area," Lamb said.
Another resident, Larry Beardmore, said the neighborhood's rural nature attracts groundhogs and other invasive animals. However, banning residents from firing weapons would unfairly persecute those individuals trying to protect their property, he claimed. At the same time, trespassers who shoot firearms in the neighborhood are nearly impossible to catch, he said. Foes of the request questioned whether adding the neighborhood to the areas under the code would guarantee enforcement.
"I don't see how a county law on top of all the applicable laws would do any good," Beardmore said.
Opponents of the request, such as resident Kim Horgan, said the neighborhood is not as heavily populated as others that have the prohibition under the county code.
At least one resident questioned whether the neighborhood even qualified as "heavily populated." Questions also remained on whether the neighborhood could bar the shooting of firearms because the state prohibits such regulation in rural areas.
Lamb noted, "I don't see why we as homeowners have to pay to prosecute somebody else."
Avid hunter and longtime resident Tom Cronin told the board the request is not about gun rights.
"What this is about is public safety," Cronin said.
Cronin said he was on his porch when a pickup truck drove by and someone in the vehicle shot at a nearby deer.
Skip Sims asked for support of the request. Sims told the board he is not anti-gun. In fact, he said he owns and shoots guns. But adding the neighborhood would not add any new regulations because the covenant already prohibits the shooting of firearms except in cases of self defense.
"We all hear gunfire," Sims said. "That's the standard alarm clock on weekend mornings.
"It's about knowing your family is safe," Sims added.
Residents have several avenues by which they can address shooting in the neighborhood, though most require time and sometimes the involvement of an attorney.
After the lengthy public hearing, the board debated the merits of the request. Glavis asked County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell the difference between the ordinance request and covenants. An ordinance makes it illegal to fire a weapon in the neighborhood and the Sheriff's Office can enforce such regulations. Covenants serve as an understanding only and the sheriff cannot enforce this agreement.
In response to questions about the association's meeting, Fisher told the board the group convenes at the nearby firehouse on a Saturday so as not to conflict with work schedules. Approximately 30 residents attended the meeting when the vote was taken, Fisher said. Opponents questioned how that number could represent the majority of the residents in the neighborhood.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com