Subcommittee will study proposed gunfire ordinance in Upper Township

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PETERSBURG – Upper Township Committee won’t yet pull the trigger on an ordinance restricting gunfire near neighboring properties and will form a subcommittee to study the issue instead, officials said Monday.

Committee members have discussed a new ordinance that would prohibit firing a gun within a certain distance of neighboring properties. The issue was raised at an Aug. 13 meeting after Committeeman Tony Inserra said a party thrown by residents living on Rt. 50 was disrupted by gunfire near the property line.

The proposal raised the ire of some gun owners here who said new regulations could make gun ranges in Upper Township a thing of the past. Some residents said the township is changing, however, and gun owners will have to change with it.

At Monday’s meeting, there was heated rhetoric on both sides.

“When does the sanctity of someone’s property rights get violated by someone with an itchy trigger finger?” said Kit Nagler, of Steelmantown, who said she has had neighbors target shoot near her property for hours at a time. “This isn’t Montana. The wide open spaces are long gone.”

“If they don’t like guns, maybe they should move back to the city,” said Stewart Segin, of Tuckahoe.

Inserra said the township didn’t want to stop gun owners from enjoying their sport, but it needed to do something to make the situation safer.

“Obviously there are people who don’t want us to do anything and people who want us to do something,” said Inserra. “I’m not looking to stop someone from enjoying their sport, I just want it to be safe.”

Mayor Richard Palombo said there has been a misconception amongst some that the township wants to restrict gun ownership here. That is not the case, he said.
 “We’re not talking about restricting the right to bear arms,” said Palombo.

Palombo recommended a seven-member subcommittee to discuss the issue and come up with an ordinance to protect residents and gun owners. The subcommittee would consist of members of the public and one representative from Upper Township Committee, he said.

“Something we really need to look at is the balance between the rural and the more populated areas of the township. We’re looking at smaller lots, residential areas, not the wide open spaces,” he said. “A subcommittee can take its time and look at this issue.”

Not all committee members agreed with the need for a new law, however.

Deputy Mayor Curtis Corson Jr. said he was fine with a subcommittee to study a potential ordinance, but said “I think we got to this point by a kneejerk reaction.”

Committeeman Jay Newman said there has been one complaint of gun ranges even though people have been target shooting on private lots in Upper Township for years.

“I don’t think you can legislate someone from being stupid,” said Newman. “If someone is going to target shoot 50 feet from their neighbor’s house, an ordinance isn’t going to stop it.”

Palombo said the problem is that residents aren’t currently protected from “someone being stupid” in that scenario. If a legal gun owner decided to fire his weapon at a target in his backyard in the middle of a residential neighborhood, State Police wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, he said.

“There’s a gap,” said Palombo. “Someone in their backyard shouldn’t have to worry about gunfire. Right now they aren’t protected from someone being stupid.”

Inserra said laws can’t prevent all stupid acts, but that doesn’t mean they should be legal.

“A law can’t stop someone from driving drunk,” he said. “If we have an ordinance, the police can go over and do something about it.”

Newman said he still wasn’t keen on a new law. Corson said residents could always make a noise ordinance complaint.

Township solicitor Dan Young said the township has no law setting minimum distances for gunfire from a neighboring property line or occupied residence. State law prohibits hunting within 450 feet of an occupied home, but there is no state regulation of target shooting.

Kris Wright, a gun owner who has shot at a gun range at 7 McDaniels Court off Rt. 50 for 17 years, said any future ordinance shouldn’t be based on the hunting regulations. Target shooting is stationary and more controlled when compared to hunting, she said.

“If anything it’s safer,” she said.

Wright and all the other gun owners who spoke at Monday’s meeting agreed with the creation of a subcommittee.

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