Loudoun County supervisors overwhelmingly voted to adopt new regulations on recreational shooting Wednesday, Dec. 11 in front of a crowd of mostly gun rights advocates wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers that overflowed from the boardroom into the lobby and another meeting room in the County Government Center.
County ordinances already prohibit discharge of firearms within 100 yards of a building with an occupancy permit without permission of the owner, within 50 yards of a highway or primary or secondary road and within 100 yards of a public park or school.
One edit, adding “and/or regularly occupied structure” to the restriction on shooting near buildings, was aimed at addressing the challenge of finding occupancy permits for Loudoun’s old buildings, some of which were permitted under a previous filing system that made them difficult to quickly find—and some of which have been occupied since before occupancy permits were required
The other is a new section to county code, reading: “The discharge of firearms for recreational or target shooting purposes shall be conducted in such a manner as to ensure that projectiles do not leave the boundaries of the property or parcel upon which the shooting is occurring, unless permission to do so has been granted by the owner of the property or parcel upon which the projectile lands. A projectile leaving the boundaries of the property or parcel shall beprima facieevidence of a violation of this section.”
Speaker after speaker lined up during the public hearing Wednesday evening to oppose the changes, although there appeared to be some confusion about what the new rules would be, based in part on previous proposals to specifically require berms at private shooting ranges. Others pushed supervisors to declare Loudoun a Second Amendment “sanctuary county,” where local leaders pledge not to use local law enforcement resources to enforce new gun control laws.
Close to 50 people signed up to speak at the public hearing, although as the meeting stretched into the late hours of the evening, not all showed up to address the board.
“I oppose this bill and others like it, because they represent the subtle yet consistent erosion of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” said Michael Schafer. “Of course, the Second Amendment was not designed to protect our ability to hunt and target shoot—it was designed to protect our ability to protect ourselves.”
Others argued the gun owners already know basic rules of safety that should prevent accidents like the ones that have occurred repeatedly during this Board of Supervisors term.
“All you’re doing is codifying what any responsible firearm owner is going to avoid,” said Mike Taylor, one of many firearms instructors who spoke. However, he also encouraged the board to get a vote done during this term, before the new board takes the dais in the new year: “I’m afraid if it’s forwarded to a future board, we’re going to see the berms and all kinds of restrictions coming back.”
Democrats seized the majority on the Board of Supervisors in November’s election andmany of those candidates pushed for more gun safety rules.
Another speaker against the new rules, William R. Hymes III, 24, of Ashburn, is currently facing charges for reckless discharge of a firearm after an incident in which a bullet left a private shooting range and grazed a woman.
Relatively few people came to speak to the board in favor of the rules, although there were a contingent of people wearing T-shirts from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization pushing for more gun safety regulations. Others wore red, a color associated with Moms Demand Action and support for gun safety rules.
Julia Holcomb, one of those, associated the rules with a one that children learn when they are very young—keep your hands to yourself.
“Why would you not know, when you learned when you were 5 to keep your hands to yourself, to keep the projectiles from your firearms on your own land?” Holcomb said. “I’m with [Supervisor Tony R.] Buffington. Any reasonable and thoughtful and properly using gun owner knows that already. They really shouldn’t need to be told it.”
Many supervisors argued that responsible gun owners should not be concerned about the new rules.
“In my view, any reasonable and responsible gun owner would have no problem with this language right here, because when you shoot on private property, you agree that you will not shoot off that property onto another property,” said Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who other supervisors credited with helping craft the new language. “…In my opinion, no reasonable and responsible gun owner would do that anyway.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said responsible gun owners should not be concerned about the language—only those who allow bullets to leave their property.
“That’s the only person in here who would be concerned about this language, someone who does that,” Letourneau said. “For everyone out there—which I believe is the vast majority of people—who wouldn’t put themselves in that position in the first place, this isn’t a problem. We are getting at the bad actors here.”
“As much as the gun owners here believe in their own property rights, I know you also respect the property rights of your neighbors, and it’s a violation of the property rights of any of us to have reckless shooters shooting into our homes, wounding our family members as happened with one lady,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg).
“Imagine if you’re in your backyard having a family barbecue, or a baby shower, and your house is hit by a stray bullet because of the recklessness and negligence of another person,” said Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling). “That would be unacceptable to you, and it should be. Where we can prevent tragedy, we should, and that’s why I’m voting yes on this.”
There remains disagreement on whether the new elements of the ordinance will be more enforceable—or more consistently enforced—than the old ones. Leaders in the Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office have argued that they have seldom filed charges—and never secured a conviction—because to successfully prosecute, they would have to demonstrate which person fired the bullet that left the property. County staff members have said the new rules may not address that loophole.
Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), who has opposed new gun safety regulations throughout the debate, opposed the new rule, citing that criticism.
“While I think this motion may make some people feel good, I don’t see where it makes any difference in trying to solve the problem, and so I will not be supporting it,” Higgins said.
Supervisors passed the new rule 6-3, with Higgins, Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) and Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) opposed.
One speaker, a former candidate for elected office, prompted audible gasps and objections even from people who shared his opposition to the new rules. George Melik-Ageamerian, who ran unsuccessfully for the Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors in November, and speaking directly to the two black supervisors on the county board—Saines and County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large)—argued the new rules were racist.
“Here’s a history lesson: the only reason we have ended segregation and the Jim Crow [laws] in the 1960s is because civil rights activists had guns and carried them and used them,” Melik-Agamerian said. “…The first job of the Ku Klux Klan was to ride around to disarm free blacks right after the Civil War. Once the KKK disarmed them, they went back to lynch them. Now I’m here to ask this board why you’re pushing racist gun control decrees on Loudoun residents, especially you, Koran, and Phyllis Randall who ran out of the room.”
Randall had left the dais to take a phone call from her elderly mother, who she said had been sick.
He continued: “You are doing the work of the KKK. Yes. I said it, the KKK. You two owe your seat on this board to the countless thousands of civil rights activists who fought for justice. If not for their sacrifice, you would still be riding in the back of the bus, and now with these ordinances, these incremental steps, you are turning back the clock to the old days.”
Melik-Agamerian had earlier urged people at the meeting to make as much noise as possible, against the board’s meeting conduct policy, although attendees of the public hearing mostly followed the rules discouraging loud demonstrations of support or opposition from the audience.
The amendments come after a lengthy process and many heated debates among supervisors, in reaction to repeated instances of stray rounds striking properties, homes and, in one case, a woman, in most cases with no charges filed for the shooters and no successful convictions so far.
This article was updated Monday, Dec. 16 at 12:50 p.m. to correct an error in the language of the new ordinance.