Isle of Wight supervisors revisit target shooting restrictions

Published 6:18 pm Monday, June 5, 2023

After letting the matter drop for three months, Isle of Wight County supervisors are again discussing 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, or to shoot within 100 yards of any public school or park located in the county’s northern end.

A change proposed by County Attorney Bobby Jones in March and revisited this month would add language making it unlawful for anyone to discharge a firearm in any way that “will, or likely will lead” to the bullet crossing a property line, unless permission has been granted by the adjacent landowner.

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The change would repeal the 1,000-foot rule and instead expand the 100-yard standard for schools and parks to any “dwelling of another” or public gathering.

The latest version of the proposed ordinance maintains language proposed in March that would require anyone engaged in recreational target shooting to have a backstop behind the target that will adequately contain the projectile, and ban target shooting between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The draft ordinance specifies violation would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, with exceptions for law enforcement, justifiable defense of life or property, killing of deer or discharge of a firearm on land zoned for agricultural use. Historical reenactments, discharge of blanks to initiate athletic competitions or ceremonial and patriotic displays would also be exempt.

Jones had stated in March that the change from the “platted subdivision” standard would make it easier for deputies to ascertain on the spot whether a violation had occurred without having to research subdivision records at the county courthouse. Capt. Tommy Potter, a spokesman for the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office, said as of March the department was receiving roughly two to three calls per week complaining of gunfire, particularly during hunting season.

“As an avid gun owner myself … I think safety is an important thing,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty, noting there have been “numerous instances” where “bullets have hit homes” in his district.

According to Jones, a projectile found by law enforcement within the boundaries of an adjacent property owner would be sufficient evidence to prove a violation.

As McCarty had asserted in March, Jones reiterated the county’s position that the ordinance would not pose a Second Amendment issue.

“We’re not telling anyone that you cannot possess a firearm,” Jones 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 board 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, a gun rights group, led a statewide push for localities to  preemptively declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary” counties.

The target shooting ordinance changes come “at the behest of several citizens who are concerned,” McCarty said.

Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson said he’d like to see something added that would give sheriff’s deputies greater ability to police noise levels from shooting, similar to how they can respond if someone complains about loud music.

Voting on the proposed ordinance changes would first require a public hearing, which McCarty estimated would not be held until the end of summer.