San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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March 24th, 2008
Gun control or gun safety?

EDITORIAL by Jeff Barton

Okay, this one’s hotter than a pistol.

I’m referring to an issue: whether folks ought to hunt and target shoot on little bitty lots. I don’t think so.

Hold up. Before you take aim with your emails – or worse – let me clarify a few points. First, I believe the Second Amendment says just what it seems to say – that the founding padres intended to enshrine the right to bear arms. Second, I own a gun myself, and at least one of my brothers-in-law owns enough guns to outfit a small Central American army.

No one’s taking my gun away – and I’m not out to yank anybody else’s (well, aside maybe from the criminally insane).

But as much as I believe in gun rights, I also believe in gun safety.

If you grew up using a gun, if you know how to use one properly, and if you’ve got the sense the good lord hoped for when he answered that Christmas prayer for a subscription to Guns And Ammo magazine, then you probably aren’t popping off rounds in the middle of the night, in the middle of your subdivision, not unless it’s an emergency.

You wouldn’t do that, would you?

Some folks do, though. We’re not the same rural county we used to be. There are more of us who grew up in cities, who don’t know the unwritten rules of rural neighborliness – or gun safety. There’s more of us who live shoulder-to-shoulder, with precious little room for error.

So we regulate how fast folks can drive on neighborhood streets. And how close to a property line you can put a well, or a septic tank.

We say you can play your music, any music you want, but not with your six-foot speakers jacked all the way up, sitting out in your driveway at 3 a.m. – not if you’re in the middle of a neighborhood.

Because our individual rights – fundamental as they are – have a leash that stops somewhere short of bustin’ down the neighbor’s door.

That’s why I’m sponsoring a measure in commissioners’ court that would put the kibosh on target shooting and hunting on most subdivision lots of two acres and less. I say most because you could still do it if you get your neighbors to give their written approval. Or if you own more than one lot, adjacent to each other, and they add up to more than two acres.

I’m also suggesting no shooting between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on lots less than 10 acres. I know, I know: this means no more skeet tournaments with the boys after Monday Night Football and a six-pack, but there it is.

I making light of this because there’s often so much tension around the gun issue. But the truth is, of course, that the subject can be deadly serious for a reason. We saw an example last year when an elementary school kid here in Hays County was shot and killed while playing on a trampoline in his back yard. The shooter was taking target practice in their subdivision; he was horrified when a stray bullet hit the child, but by then it was too late.

It’s already to shoot a child, even by accident. But right now there is no common-sense rule in place that let’s a deputy sheriff roll up and grab a fella by the elbow and suggest that he cut this out before somebody gets hurt – or else. We can enforce laws against reckless shooting after the fact, but we can’t do anything to prevent it.

The legislature has given counties that authority, but Hays County has never enacted a set of rules – tools, really – to give our law enforcement officers.

Now, nothing we do is going to prevent all accidents, or turn fools into wise men. We’re just playing the odds, trying to balance legitimate gun rights with common sense and a reasonable expectation of public safety in our neighborhoods.

We could ban all shooting on lots less than 10 acres. But I know there are lot of safe places to shoot on five and 10 acre lots, especially in the more rugged parts of our county where a ravine or bluff might create a natural backstop; or in truly rural subdivisions where there may be room to hunt the occasional deer.

I’m skeptical that’s the case in subdivisions with lots of a half acre, or even an acre and a half. While a bullet might travel past a property line on a larger lot – even on a ranch or farm – on small lots the chances, the dangers, are much higher; too high for my taste. My granddad would have laughed at someone who said they were going hunting on a one-acre lot inside a subdivision.

I’m proposing a whole list of exceptions – if you’re firing blanks, if you’re shooting as part of an official ceremony, if you’re protecting your self, your family, your pets or your property, if you’re inside on a shooting range. But otherwise, if you’re just taking practice or wanting to hunt, and you’re on a small lot (two acres or less) in a subdivision, I think the rule ought to be that you ought to go someplace else to shoot. This applies to firearms, not BB guns or bows.

I’ll be introducing just such a rule in Commissioners Court, probably sometime this month (march ’07). If you want more information, you can contact my county office (jeff.barton@co.hays.tx.us). I’ve spent a lot of time working on the details, months actually, and conferred with a citizen committee that includes cops and constables and regular gun owners. I think we’ve come up with something workable, fair, and reasonable.

Like I said, it won’t mean that we never lose another school kid to an accidental shooting. But it will mean we’ve got better tools to maybe, just maybe, save a life in the future.

And meanwhile, nobody gives up their gun, or their right to use it if they really need to.

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If you are interested in additional information you can go to http://www.jeffersonbarton.com.

The firearms ordinance is on the agenda for Hays County Commissioners’ Court Tuesday 3/25/08, court begins at 9:00 am the Firearms Ordinance is near the end of the agenda. To view the entire agenda go to http://co.hays.tx.us.

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0 thoughts on “Gun control or gun safety?

  1. Are you saying that a law like Reckless Endangerment doesn’t handle a situation like this? Why is the solution another law?

    “That government is best which governs least”
    – Thomas Paine (one of our founding padres)

  2. Thank you Jeff Barton for trying to make a difference, but two acres? Legally you can get a permit to sell deer leases on 1 to 99 acres. Yes, the county may make any restrictions it wishes. I was raised in the country and laugh at anyone who would lease or hunt on anything with less than 10 acres.
    I got fed up with the bird hunting on the 4 acres across the road from me. My neighbors had been peppered with buckshot, so I went out and shouted them down. They left and haven’t been back. The next time I will take my camera and lawn chair and set in the road and take pictures of them. I’m not tolerating it anymore. It terriorizes my pets and disrupts my life. I’m defending my loved ones, neighbors, and property.
    I talked with spokespersons from PEC and CenturyTel. They both wrote me that buckshot in lines is a real problem and responsible for them having to replace many sections of cable every year. It might not cause a problem in the lines at the time, but then it rains and water gets in. It’s responsible for much of the static in the lines. I went to the County Commissioners Court a couple of years ago and got nothing. I still have those letters and want to know when we should come to the commissioner’s court and speak on this, if it’s not too late.

  3. Thank you, Commissioners Conley & Ford, as well as Judge Sumter for keeping Hays County from becoming the “poster child” for gun control in Texas.

    “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the people’s liberty teeth keystone… the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable… more than 99% of them by their silence indicate that they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference. When firearms go, all goes, we need them every hour.”

    George Washington

  4. These anti-gun control fanatics refuse to recognize that as our population grows, so does irresponsible use of firearms by ignorant, selfish, and desparate people. The bigot lawyer that was so quick to discount the life of that child because the shooter and/or the child (which was not true)may have been illegal should be disbared. He is a disgrace to the legal profession, which may not be saying much. No one is suggesting that people cannot have guns for self protection or to put down a disabled animal, and to suggest so is to distort the truth. If you want to hunt or practice your aim, pay for it and don’t put your neighborhood and neighbors at risk.

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