Posted: 12:00 a.m. Monday, Nov. 26, 2012

Some officials seek laws on shooting in townships

By Amelia Robinson

Staff Writer

Facing conflicts between longtime township dwellers and an influx of new residents, elected officials in some of Ohio’s 1,308 townships want authorities to regulate the use of firearms.

The Ohio Township Association this month voted to ask state lawmakers to give trustees the power to enact local gun control ordinancesnext year.

But opponents say the likelihood of trouble in townships related to shooting in townships is low and that different regulations in each jurisdiction could lead to confusion about the laws.

Matthew J. DeTemple, the township association’s executive director, said some township residents — particularly in the state’s most populated urban townships — unwittingly are finding themselves living very close to a neighbor’s backyard target.

“The great majority of Ohio population growth from 2000 to 2010 was in townships. You have people who have lived in a township a long time. They were used to a rural setting. There’s been growth in places where it was perfectly fine (to fire weapons), but now it isn’t,” DeTemple said. “It is not that the Ohio Township Association is against the right to bear arms. What we are all about is making sure it is done safely.”

Ohio law does not prohibit those with permission from property owners from firing shots in unincorporated areas unless someone is being harmed or the person firing the weapon is intoxicated or otherwise legally under disability.

Supporters of the regulations say townships should have the right to design laws that fit their situation.

At least one issue made news in recent months.

Ross High School in Butler County was placed on lock down in September after hunters using a friend’s farm unknowingly hit the school with bullets fired from assault riffles and handguns.

Despite that example, Philip Mulivor, spokesman for Ohioans for Concealed Carry, compared the likelihood of there being trouble associated with firearms in townships to winning the lottery.

“The common sense approach is to not allow 500 different laws throughout the state. It would lead to confusion among people who are concerned about obeying the letter of the law because no one could know about a cagillion different laws,” he said. “This type of patchwork local regulation is completely unacceptable to firearm owners. Fortunately, I think it (the law) will remain on our side despite what those little towns want to do.”

Stephen C. Cain said his fears of stray bullets from his neighbor’s property lead to his family’s decision to move from their two-story brick Oleva Drive home in Sugarcreek Township to a home in Oakwood they had been renting out. The Cains have four sons.

Until recently the neighbors routinely fired rifles, revolvers and pistols into wooden beams positioned 20 paces from Cain’s home.

“A couple of times they shot and there was no warning at all,” the professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology said. “You never know when it is going to start up again. You are always on edge.”

Cain is one of two Greene County residents to recently to complain to Sugarcreek Township trustees about shots being fired on properties in the township.

Sugarcreek Township police Sgt. Brian Deckard investigated the complaints which he said were relatively rare.

“By law, our hand are tied,” he said.

County sheriff departments patrol most area townships.

Miami County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Lord said his department received about 50 complaints this year about shots fired in townships mostly by hunters or target shooters.

“Sometimes it is a safety issue. Someone is shooting over a backstop. Other times it is just the noise or they (callers) are alarmed because it is gun shots,” he said. “It is usually not an enforcement option. It is keeping the peace and educating people to watch where they are shooting… We’ve had houses that have been hit, but we haven’t had anything that would involve an accidental shooting.”

Officials from Montgomery and Warren County sheriffs’ offices did not return a call seeking comment.

Greene County sheriff’s Major Eric Spicer said there are a number of existing regulations outlining how people can fire weapons in townships. He pointed out that bullets cannot be fired onto other people’s property without permission or across roads.

“They have to stay on their own land and practice safety,” he said. “We don’t want to see anybody getting hurt obviously.”

Shots fired in township complaint statistics were not readily available, but Spicer said his department receives a relatively small number a year.

Ronald Lewis, the prosecutor for Sugarcreek Township, said no laws have been broken in Cain’s situation and there is little that can be done.

Cain said the shots are fired close to his property line and he worried that stray bullets could hit his house or strike his sons, ages 12 to a year, if they were in the background during the neighbors’ target shooting.

“We don’t want our kids to go out there and play,” he said. “Nobody tells you that you might have to deal with this (in a township).”

Repeated messages seeking comment were left on the Cain’s former neighbors’ answering machine.

A woman who answered the phone at the home declined to identify herself, but said her family has done nothing wrong. She said several neighbors are hunters or in the military and that neighborhood children grew up firing BB guns and firearms for sport.

Thomas E. Willsey, chairman of the Ross Township trustee board in Butler County and first vice president of the township association board, said he is a hunter and would be “mad as hell” if someone told him he couldn’t shoot on his 10 acre property.

Still, he said, regulations are needed — particularly in populated townships like West Chester Township — which has nearly 70,000 people according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

“When you have houses back-to-back, you don’t want some nut firing into some hay barrel,” Willsey said.

He said his township is not large in population — it has about 9,000 residents — but has issues that should be addressed. He said he would like rules concerning shooting near school buildings to help prevent situations similar to the one at Ross High School last fall.

“You are not going to keep people from violating laws and you are not going to stop some nut job, but most people are law abiding,” he said. “At least give (township officials) a tool they they can put in their tool box.”


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