'No shooting zone' hearing draws 100 people
By Steven J. Barry, Leader Staff Writer
Port Townsend, WA - 11/8/06 - A mass e-mail from the National Rifle Association helped to draw more than 100 people to a hearing on proposed changes to the county's no-shooting-zone ordinance, leading county commissioners to delay the hearing until they could find a larger venue.
Unless a site in unincorporated Jefferson County has been designated a no-shooting area, it is not illegal to discharge a firearm. Presently, in order for the Board of County Commissioners to even consider establishing a new no-shooting area, it requires a petition with at least 10 signatures from registered voters in each precinct contained in the proposed zone.
The proposed changes to the ordinance, drafted by the Jefferson County Planning Commission this year, would make it possible for the county sheriff, the BOCC or members of other county departments to file a petition requesting a no-shooting area.
"This attempt to make it easier to impose restrictions on law-abiding shooters and hunters is similar to efforts NRA has been monitoring in many counties throughout the State of Washington," the NRA e-mail states. "It is absolutely critical that firearm owners, shooters and hunters turn out for this meeting."
The move to reschedule the Nov. 6 meeting due to the crowd - which packed the BOCC chambers and filled the downstairs hall of the Jefferson County Courthouse - drew denunciation from those inside the tiny chambers.
Several people stood to say the commissioners should have anticipated that the no-shooting-zone ordinance would be a hot topic and could have been better prepared for a large showing.
"You apologize for the inconvenience, don't you Dave?" shouted Mats Mats resident Mike Belenski, addressing Commissioner David Sullivan.
Sullivan said just after the rescheduled hearing Monday afternoon that the commissioners had no idea so many people would show up until learning of the NRA's announcement Friday afternoon. By then, he said, it was too late to secure the Superior Courtroom - where the 2 p.m. meeting was conducted - at the originally scheduled time of 10 a.m. Nov. 6.
The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action advised NRA members to show up at 9:30 a.m., "as there will likely be many anti-shooting advocates there trying to fill the seats."
That proved not to be the case at the 2 p.m. meeting, where all speakers but one opposed the proposed revisions to the county's ordinance. Many people who spoke implied that the revisions constitute an effort to restrict their right to keep and bear arms.
"The basis for my opposition is simply that it takes away some of my civil liberties [and] provides an opportunity for the bureaucracy to establish dynasty that suspends public participation," said Ralph Wilson, a 40-year Jefferson County resident.
Richard Watson, a fifth-generation Port Ludlow resident, said a no-shooting area there would prevent him from protecting his livestock.
"It is our right from God to protect the flock," Watson said.
The process to revise the no-shooting-zone ordinance began in March, when Sheriff Mike Brasfield sent a letter to the BOCC asking to schedule a public discussion to explore establishment of a no-shooting zone in the Tri-Area (Port Hadlock, Irondale, Chimacum) without a petition. Brasfield mentioned the number of churches, schools, parks, homes and businesses, and said he was concerned about the potential for "property damage and injury."
Brasfield said during Monday's hearing that the e-mail had been the extent of his involvement in the revision process.
He compared a sheriff's ability to recommend a no-shooting zone to recommending something be done about an intersection with a history of traffic accidents.
"It seems like the person you elect as your public safety head ought to be able to send a note to the county commissioners saying this is something they might want to consider," Brasfield said.
After public testimony Monday, the commissioners said they would schedule a second hearing to continue discussion.