Isle of Wight considers new restrictions on target shooting

Published 12:06 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors are contemplating new restrictions on recreational target shooting.

Isle of Wight’s current firearms ordinance makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to fire a gun within a 1,000-foot radius of a “platted subdivision” of six or more homes. A change proposed by County Attorney Bobby Jones would make it “unlawful for any person to discharge a firearm for recreational or target shooting purposes” if the bullet “will, or is likely to” leave the gun owner’s property boundaries, unless “permission to do so has been granted by the adjacent landowner.”

The change, as currently written, would further require anyone engaged in recreational target shooting to have a backstop behind the target that will “adequately contain the projectile” and would ban target shooting between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

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The change from the “platted subdivision” standard would make it easier for deputies to ascertain a violation on the spot without having to research subdivision records at the county courthouse, Jones said.

According to Capt. Tommy Potter, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, the department receives calls complaining of gunfire two to three times per week, particularly during hunting season.

Potter said the Sheriff’s Office recently received calls from hunters reporting “unknown bullets” flying past them and striking trees in a wooded area roughly half a mile northwest of Carrollton Boulevard’s Dock of the Bay restaurant. Deputies traced the gunfire to a homeowner who’d set up a series of backyard targets, but they determined the backyard setup to be in compliance with the “platted subdivision” law.

The 1,000-foot rule has resulted in some inconsistencies, Jones said. For example, county law allows homeowners to hunt on their own land if it’s zoned rural agricultural conservation, or RAC. There are two parcels totaling around 450 acres, each zoned RAC, near Fort Boykin, where hunting is allowed on the entire parcel but target shooting would be restricted to only a small area under the 1,000-foot rule, Jones said.

The proposed ordinance change would apply only to recreational shooting.

“None of this applies to lawful hunting,” Jones said.

It also has “nothing to do with gun rights” and is “not a Second Amendment issue,” Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty said.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In 2019, when McCarty previously served as the board’s chairman, the supervisors adopted a gun-rights resolution declaring Isle of Wight a “constitutional county.” When Democrats pushing for new gun laws won control of the state legislature in that year’s elections, the Virginia Citizens Defense League gun rights group led a statewide push for localities to preemptively declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary” counties.

“We want to promote safe and effective gun ownership. … We know that we have development here in the county,” Potter said.

Despite the reassurance, McCarty proposed moving the required public hearing on the ordinance change to a larger venue than the boardroom at the county’s government complex.

“We’re going to probably have a bunch of groups coming down and telling us, ‘You hate guns,’” McCarty said, “And I can tell them I have 31 of them.”

The supervisors are planning to discuss the issue further at an April 6 work session before setting a date and advertising the required hearing.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the current ordinance bars shooting within a 1,000-foot radius of a platted subdivision of six or more homes, not five. The ordinance defines “platted subdivision” as a residential subdivision of more than five lots platted at the same time.