“I have one specific neighbor who wears guns strapped to him while gardening, playing ball with his kids, or just walking around the house,” a reader wrote to the Key Peninsula News not long ago. “The police have arrested him, but he continues to shoot. There are eight homes on our road and they all either have pets or children or both. We as neighbors are concerned but feel our hands are tied.”

It’s legal to wear a gun while working in your yard, according to Lt. Larry Bauer, chief of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Peninsula Detach-ment, but you can’t necessarily fire it. That depends on where you live.

“We get a lot of people coming into the (Peninsula Detachment) office for information,” Bauer says. Of course, it seems safe to assume that most, if not all, of the folks who come in to peer at the wall-mounted “Key Peninsula No-Shoot” map are responsible sports people, checking to see where they can legally discharge firearms, since reckless shooters aren’t likely to bother.

According to the map (see left), the vast majority of Key Peninsula is open to shooting, which stands in marked contrast to the Gig Harbor area. A fact likely to please residents who want to preserve the Key Peninsula’s rural character, and likely to trouble those who feel the area is too populated for activities like hunting or target shooting.

Of course there’s responsible shooting, as practiced by thousands of hunters and target shooters, and then there’s the other stuff.   Like firing weapons towards houses and barns.  And that’s illegal regardless of where you do it.  Bauer says: “We’ll get a complaint of someone shooting in an area. If we can see evidence that someone is shooting from one house toward another house, we’ll go talk to them. And if we determine that it’s reckless, we can arrest them.”

Which is to say that Bauer and his deputies want to help — but it’s difficult, if not impossible, for them to do anything without some sort of proof. That can be difficult to collect where shooting incidents are concerned.

So how bad is the overall problem? Given the fact that most of the Key Peninsula is open to shooting, and that only 43 “Shots Fired” complaints were received during a 13-month period of time (see chart), that averages out to about three reported incidents per month.  (For a .pdf file of the chart data, please click here.) 

Why are some areas closed to shooting while others aren’t? The process to close an area works like this: First, those favoring such a ban have to get 60 percent of the property owners in the area they envision as a no-shooting zone to sign a petition in favor of the proposal. And, because the property owners must be registered voters too, that makes the process of gathering signatures that much more demanding. It also means that residents who rent their homes can’t participate in the petition process.

Then, assuming that the necessary number of qualified signatures is gathered, the petition would be turned over to the Pierce County Firearms Advisory Commission. It’s a group which, according to Sean Gaffney, senior planner for the department of Planning and Land Services, consists of four members who represent gun clubs, three members who don’t represent gun clubs, and two nonvoting members.

Having reviewed the petition, and the detailed documentation submitted along with it, the Firearms Advisory Commission makes a recommendation that is forwarded to the Pierce County Council for a final decision. Up until this point the council has never gone against such a recommendation but it theoretically could.

A proposal that would restrict shooting in the Palmer Lake area was submitted to the council in November 2005 but the petitioners are still awaiting a decision.

For detailed information regarding the petition process, direct your browser to the Pierce County Council Website (www.co.pierce.wa.us), choose “Pierce County Code and Charter” on the right side of the page, and choose “Title 9 Criminal Code.” Once you arrive there, page down to 9.32.070, which is titled “Discharge of Firearms Prohibited or Restricted.”

Legal shooting areas also have restrictions — including those listed in a county ordinance that states, “….it shall be unlawful to discharge a firearm within 500 feet toward any building occupied by people or domestic animals or used for storage of flammable or noncombustible materials. It shall be unlawful to discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet toward any K-12 school within the county.”

Anyone not familiar with the rules of gun safety, or in need of a quick refresher, may find useful to review the National Rifle Association gun safety rules posted at https://explore.nra.org/interests/safety-and-education/.

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