City council aims at rifles

Published 10:18 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2009

After lobbying for and gaining the right to set its own rules regarding the use of rifles in the city, Suffolk’s city council chose to make no changes to the regulations on Wednesday.

Council voted unanimously to institute the same law the state had in its code last year.

Three people spoke during the public hearing regarding the new ordinance, which prohibits the use of a rifle of any caliber for the hunting of bear and deer in Suffolk, except in the Great Dismal Swamp.

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Suffolk is creating its own rifle regulations after the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries repealed its regulation governing rifle use in the city, anticipating that it would be replaced by local regulation.

The ordinance states rifles of any caliber for the hunting of bear and deer in the city will be prohibited except in the Great Dismal Swamp. It also is unlawful to discharge a firearm or air gun of .177 caliber or larger in a densely populated area, within 100 yards of any structure used as a residence, business or storage facility without the permission of the owner; within 100 yards of any public street, except at a permitted firing range; or at or upon the property of another without permission.

The restrictions do not apply to law enforcement officers engaged in the performance of their duties, or in any situation in which the discharge of a weapon is necessary for the preservation or protection of human life or property. They also do not apply to the use of muzzle-loading rifles during prescribed open seasons in the city, but the use of such rifles is permitted only from a stand at least 10 feet above the ground.

Peggy Ferguson, who lives in the Lake Meade area, said she hoped the council would come closer to banning the shooting of rifles altogether. Ferguson came before the council in December 2008 to complain about gun use regulations after the back of her home was hit by four gunshots in November.

“Four gunshots were fired at my house,” she said. “Potentially, if anybody had been in my backyard, up to four people could have been injured or killed.”

Ferguson said Wednesday she has become fearful of spending time in her backyard or getting out of her car in the driveway.

“I want to live in peace,” she said. “I have to worry about whether I’m going to be shot.”

Ferguson accused some hunters of being lax in safety standards. She asked the council to increase the distance people must be from dwellings before they can fire a weapon.

John Fenter, who was at the meeting representing the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said he was satisfied with the 8-0 vote, even though he’d asked the council to delay a vote to research the issue more. He encouraged Ferguson to report irresponsible hunters to the game department, to the sheriff’s office or to the police department to have them arrested.