Dorchester rejects shooting ban NRA campaign drives opposition

A National Rifle Association email to members alerted Dorchester County residents about a proposed law banning gunfire near roads in residential areas.

ST. GEORGE — A controversial law to ban shooting near public roads in residential areas was voted down Monday by Dorchester County Council.

The vote reversed two earlier preliminary approvals. And it came after an email campaign by the National Rifle Association spurred loud opposition.

The vote was 4-2 with Chairman Larry Hargett and Councilman David Chinnis voting to pass the law. Councilman George Bailey was absent.

Before the vote, Chinnis set his own emptied holsters and ammo boxes on the council dais to show that he, too, is a gun owner. He lectured people who had opposed the law, quieting the audience. The law mirrors state law and was designed to stop irresponsible shooting, he said.

“When you infringe on someone else’s safety, then the government steps in. I don’t like it,” he said. But “you can’t pick and choose what rights you get and what rights you don’t get, and that’s what you’re doing.”

The law would have banned discharging shot from an “explosive” firearm within 500 feet of public roads in those areas.

The email called the ordinance “poorly crafted” and said it didn’t exempt people who fire in self-protection, lawful hunters or people target shooting on private property.

The law had been reworked before the meeting specifically to provide those exemptions.

The NRA regional office in Virginia did not return a call for comment.

After two earlier votes and a public hearing where the proposed regulation drew little comment, council members fielded angry emails and phone calls after the email was sent last week.

A meeting room full of opponents waited for them Monday.

Opponents called out the Pledge of Allegiance loudly, emphasizing freedom, as it was recited to open the meeting.

Summerville resident Jerry Ziegler was among six people who spoke opposing the ordinance. He said it wasn’t fair to people who live near roads who want to shoot in their backyards, and to hunters who shoot near roads.

Among a number of objections, John Dangerfield of Ladson said that the law could be read to ban projectile fireworks.

“If so, the sheriff is going to be very busy New Year’s Eve,” he said to loud applause.

Sheriff L.C. Knight told council his office had responded to 547 “shots fired” calls since March 2011 but could not say how many involved actual shots being fired, and that shooters usually were gone when deputies arrived.

Hargett read from newspaper clippings about recent incidents of people being shot while inside buildings.

“We’ve got some folks out there (irresponsibly) firing weapons off,” he said.

The law “was certainly well meaning in its intent,” Councilman Bill Hearn said. “But we’re living in a time where, understandably so, citizens simply don’t trust our government.”

The regulation was spurred by complaints of gunfire from residents in the developed lower county around Summerville and its bedroom Oakbrook community. Residents also have complained about pellets hitting and damaging windows and cars.

It’s at least the third version of a suburban shooting ban the council has considered and dropped in the past decade after meeting resistance.

In the swamps, pines and farmlands of Dorchester County, wild game harvesting is a way of life and an age-old tradition. Venomous snakes are a constant. The crack of gunfire is considered a part of the place.

Even the developed Oakbrook area was ringed by open lands and hunt clubs a decade ago. Gunfire and stray hunting dogs were not unusual for people who lived alongside those lands.

But one by one, those clubs have closed as the suburbs have grown.

The most recent attempt at a ban was proposed last year, concerning the noise from gunfire; it was dropped from a “livability” ordinance that was later tabled.

“It’s beyond my comprehension that anyone would take that ordinance to be against the Second Amendment,” Donna Underwood said before the meeting. A Kings Grant resident, she had asked council for help after her car and plate glass window were struck by BBs.

“I have a right to be safe in my own environment,” she said. “I can’t understand why people can’t discriminate between putting a person’s life in danger and just using common sense.”