1/8 Editorial: Counties need to tighten firearms laws to protect residents

A hunter's bullet recently went through Tyrone and Selda Johnson's great room on Sertoma Drive in Lanexa. Amy Jo Martin photo

A recent incident involving a bullet going through a New Kent County home has highlighted minimal and insufficient firearms regulations in our local government.

New Kent County code, like that in King William, (Section 46) states that, "hunting within 100 yards of any primary or secondary highway in the county is prohibited."

Though we are glad that the two counties have taken that precaution, there is a lot more to be done for the safety of their residents.

As it reads right now, the code does nothing to prevent hunters from being 100 yards or closer to businesses or residences.

Recently, buckshot fired from a hunter on Cooks Mill Road in Lanexa went through the home of Tyrone and Selda Johnson.

If Johnson is correct that buckshot cannot travel more than 100 yards and yet it struck his home, the Newport News hunter was firing a rifle pretty close to his house.

According to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Outreach Director Lee Walker, how far buckshot travels depends on the shotgun gauge (12, 20, 28, or 410), the size of the ammunition (2 1/4-inch, 3-inch, or 3 1/2-inch), and the size of the pellets (#4 through 000).

"In a scenario where buckshot is fired from a 12-gauge shotgun up into the air [such as in celebratory fire], it is possible for the pellets to travel as far as 500 or 600 yards," said Walker. "In a hunting scenario, where a hunter is shooting at game, the effective killing range of most buckshot is about 40 yards."

The specifics of the gun and ammunition that struck the Johnson's home are unknown, so we can't be sure of the projectile's full potential and how far away the hunter was standing from the home.

However, the entire situation is still concerning.

In exploring this topic, we want to stress that we are not assuming that hunters are irresponsible and haphazardly shoot at game.

Also, we are not against hunting. We believe that it is the right of every responsible sportsman.

However, we are against lax firearm regulations, especially rural areas such as New Kent and King William counties, both of which have a high population of hunters and scattered residences.

We are also concerned about hunters that don't have their geographical bearings.

We are well aware that many out-of-towners, such as the hunter that struck Johnson's home, don't know the area or its surroundings.

In our opinion, it is the landowner's responsibility to properly prepare hunters that are using his or her land for sport. They should take it upon themselves to provide hunters with a layout of their land and forewarn them of any nearby homes.

In other localities, such as Stafford County, it is illegal to, "shoot or hunt within 100 yards of any regularly occupied structure without written permission of its owner or occupant."

Doing so would ensure that hunters know where the residences are, which would hold them accountable for their actions, should a bullet go through another home.

Given the fact that New Kent County has experienced three incidents of bullets going through Lanexa homes (all near Cooks Mill Road) in the last three months, and that Chief Deputy Joe McLaughlin, Jr. told the Review in November 2013 that his department has investigated gun-related property damage throughout the county in the past (many of which may have been hunting-related), we're encouraging New Kent to join Stafford County in adopting this regulation.

We also encourage King William and King & Queen counties to consider following suit.

We hope that New Kent County Administrator Rodney Hathaway lives up to his word: that staff makes some changes before the November 2014 deer hunting season and that they review the A-1 (Agricultural) zoning on Sertoma Drive.

Staff should consider rezoning the Sertoma Drive area homes R-1 (Residential) to keep those residents protected against hunting fire, especially since three shootings have already happened near Cooks Mill Road.

In the end, it will be up to the Board of Supervisors to take the reigns on any suggestions handed down by Hathaway and his staff.

It is the Board's duty and responsibility to ensure the safety of New Kent County. They are paid officials, after all, and work for all the residents, not just the hunters and farmers.

We openly challenge the New Kent, King William, and King & Queen Board of Supervisors to tighten firearms laws before a tragedy happens that cannot be undone.