A Loudoun County working group on gun safety rules convened after stray bullets struck homes in the Willowsford neighborhood, resulting in no charges against the people firing them from a nearby private shooting range, has recommended tweaking the rules governing shooting near occupied buildings.
In June, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) proposed extending the required distance from an occupied structure for shooting a gun beyond the current 100-yard prohibition to 880 yards, or a half-mile—a distance allowed for in state code for prohibiting hunting in areas that are “so heavily populated as to make such hunting dangerous to the inhabitants thereof.”
The proposal came after an incident near Aldie in which three rounds fired from a private shooting range struck homes in Willowsford about 300 yards away. Sheriff’s deputies investigating that incident found that, although the shooters were firing fully automatic weapons, they were properly licensed and acting legally.
At two of those houses, people were home. One family was outside, and one person lying on the couch holding his baby when a bullet struck nearby.
Other county supervisors rejected Umstattd’s proposal. Instead, they voted 6-3, with Supevisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) opposed, to be launch a more narrowly focused gun safety working group. That group was to include representation from Office of the County Attorney, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the county Department of Mapping and Geographic Information, the Sheriff’s Office, the Izaak Walton League, the Virginia Deer Hunter’s Association, the Loudoun Hunt Club, and Ray McHenry, president of a private hunt club.
The Discharge of Firearms Working Group returned a report recommending no changes to the areas where firing guns is prohibited in Loudoun, and a slight modification to the rule on discharging a firearm near an occupied structure.
Currently, the county code prohibits firing a gun within 100 yards “of a building with a current occupancy permit,” unless the owner gives permission. The working group recommended changing that wording to a “regularly occupied structure, or a structure intended for occupancy.” Some buildings that may be occupied are not required to have an occupancy permit, and some occupancy records were said to be difficult to research.
The working group found a suggestion to prohibit bullets flying over another person’s property without their permission would be impractical to enforce, and that the county government may not have the authority to adopt such a rule.
A survey of other counties in the region—including Fairfax, Prince William, Clarke, Fauquier, and Stafford—found Loudoun was on the permissive end of gun safety rules. Some counties limit the caliber of hunting weapons, or restrict carrying loaded weapons on waterways or near schools or parks. Every county surveyed required firing no closer than 100 yards from a highway, compared to Loudoun’s 50-yard rule.
However, Loudoun is far from the most permissive on firearms. Clarke County prohibits only carrying loaded rifles and shotguns on public highways, and hunting with a firearm within 100 yards of a highway.
The county is limited in the laws it can adopt without explicit authority granted by the Virginia General Assembly.
The Board of Supervisors will hear the working group’s recommendations Tuesday, Dec. 4.