Don’t pass any silly firearms laws

Published 11:05 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To the Editor:

It is important for members of the Suffolk City Council to know that they cannot enact a law that will make citizens safer from hazards relating to firearms discharge. Only the good judgment of the shooter can accomplish this.

The current law that requires a hunter shooting a rifle at whitetail deer or bear to be in a stand 15 feet above the ground. A hunter with a shotgun can stand on the ground (regarding the rifle, this applies east of the Dismal Swamp line; in the rest of Suffolk, the hunter can only use a shotgun). Hunters can only discharge a firearm 100 yards from the nearest structure.

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Whitetail deer are a serious nuisance throughout Suffolk; they eat gardens and flowers around homes and eat farm products in the fields; throughout the US they are responsible for the death of about 200 people each year, mostly as a result of automobile accidents, many more than are killed in hunting accidents.

Some people erect fences around their gardens. Government provides some compensation to farmers for crop damage. I have neighbors who would gladly allow me to hunt deer sitting in a lawn chair behind their homes if not for the current ordinance. This would be perfectly safe, because three sides of the neighbors’ homes are surrounded by woods 400 to 500 yards deep. I could safely hunt there with either a shotgun or a rifle, based on my good judgment.

If I moved a hundred yards out into a field away from the exposed front of my neighbors’ homes, it would not be safe to shoot even a shotgun toward the houses. I would be legally hunting but only my good judgment keeps me from unsafe activities such as shooting at a deer between me and the homes. I could safely shoot in other directions without there being a chance of doing harm, but, again, this is solely based on my judgment.

Some people forget that many Virginians carry concealed handguns powerful enough to hunt deer and bear. Research by Dr. Gary Kleck, Professor of Criminology at Florida State University (Targeting Guns, Aldine Transaction, New Brunswick and London, 1997) determines that accidents involving firearms are rare, contrary to information commonly published in the media.

But FBI statistics show that on average every three days of a year a private citizen justifiably kills two felons, while police kill about one a day. Even in Suffolk, law-abiding citizens can fire handguns, rifles and shotguns standing on the ground nearly anywhere (even in closely compact housing developments the contractors love so much). It is only the good judgment of the shooter that makes this as safe as it is.

The bottom line is that no law will make hunting any safer in Suffolk. Only the good judgment of the shooter will do that, regardless of whether he is using a rifle, handgun or shotgun or whether he is standing on the ground or up in a tree.

City Council should try not to pass a law that makes us and our city look silly. We live in a rural community, not New York City.