Council takes a shot at rifles

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, December 3, 2009

Among the residents of Suffolk, the only consensus to be had on hunting regulations during a recent meeting was that they should be consistent across the city.

That was the report from Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts in Wednesday’s City Council meeting. Roberts conducted a public input meeting last month to get comments on the city’s proposed rifle regulations.

Residents at that meeting asked for consistency in rules across the city, as well as between state and local laws. Currently, different regulations apply on different sides of the “Dismal Swamp Line,” which bisects the city along Desert and White Marsh roads, through downtown and up Route 10. In addition, some people were concerned that discrepancies between state and local laws could occur, Roberts said, and with determining what laws apply where.

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“There is a potential for a disconnect between what the state laws set out and what the local laws include,” Roberts said. “That’s something we’ve been encouraged to take a look at.”

Councilman Joe Barlow, however, was concerned about the notion of consistency in such a large city.

“It’s nice to have it all the same, but the city’s not the same all over,” Barlow said.

In February, the city asked for and received permission to make its own regulations regarding hunting. In September, City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting hunting with rifles in certain areas of the city — the same ordinance that was in effect under state law last year. Council instructed city staff to get input from citizens on desired regulations.

Besides the need for consistency, the input was “really all over the place,” Roberts said. Some residents opposed the use of rifles at all — others wanted to make the laws more lenient. Some said rifles should be allowed 25 yards away from a public roadway as long as the hunter shoots away from the road, but others said they should be no closer than 700 yards. Still others said rifles should be used only from an elevation, but disagreed on whether that elevation should be 10 feet or 15 feet.

Roberts suggested that city staff should reiterate council’s previous request to be exempted from a state law regulating the use of rifles to hunt big game in the Dismal Swamp. The city would prefer to set its own standards, officials have said.

Roberts also said city staff will work more with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to develop regulations for Suffolk. A new ordinance must be in place by May 1, 2010, in order to be included in the state’s annual hunting guide.