Dozens of Jackson County residents gathered Tuesday night with a clear message for county legislators: Repeal a ban on shooting on many rural properties.
Whether that is likely to happen is unclear.
“It’s not going to be unanimous, I don’t believe,” said County Legislator Greg Grounds, R-Blue Springs.
He spoke at a meeting of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance in Independence, and many in attendance encouraged others to lobby their county legislators and attend next Monday’s County Legislature meeting. The weapons issue is scheduled to be on the agenda.
That meeting is at 2:30 p.m. Monday downstairs at the County Courthouse Annex, 308 W. Kansas Ave., behind the post office on the west edge of the Independence Square.
“I wish the legislators had talked to folks like us before they wrote the ordinance,” said Kevin L. Jamison, president of the Shooters Alliance.
Legislators unanimously passed the new ordinance in December. Sheriff Mike Sharp says his deputies have made no arrests but have given warnings. Elected officials have said they’ve getting lots of phone calls in the last few weeks, and Grounds says the ordinance goes too far and was a mistake.
“I’m here to take blame. ... All of us voted for it,” he said.
Sharp also pledged to do what he can to convince legislators to drop the new ordinance, and he was upbeat about that happening.
“I have a really strong feeling that you’re going to see a positive result from your actions,” he told those at the meeting.
Many at the meeting pressed county officials on how the new ordinance came about. Col. Hugh Mills of the Sheriff’s Department said since 2009 there have been 40 citizen complaints about bullets coming onto their property and hitting homes. There is also a more recent case, from several weeks ago, in which a woman riding an ATV was struck by a rifle bullet and badly wounded. That case remains under investigation.
The previous county ordinance banned firing in a densely populated area, but there is no hard-and-fast definition of “densely populated.” It’s up to the judgment of the investigating deputy, and judges were throwing out those cases because of the muddy definition.
“For every single case, for dense-population areas, it was thrown out,” Mills said.
Last fall, a citizen who had experienced a couple of these incidents met with Grounds and other legislators, asking what could be done. Staff came up using the Public Works Department’s “urban tier” map, which outlines the areas generally close to cities that are likely to annexed over time.
In hindsight, Grounds said, that wasn’t the right approach – “like taking an elephant to a rodeo,” he said. The urban tier once generally meant anything within a mile of a city line, but that’s changed over time, and Grounds said legislators didn’t realize that.
Today the “urban tier” includes much of the area around Blue Springs Lake, east and south of Lake Jacomo, east and north of Lake Lotawana, east of Blue Springs, around Grain Valley and Oak Grove, north of Blue Springs toward Lake City, and east of Sugar Creek.
“It (the ordinance passed in December) was conceived with good intentions, but it was not well thought through,” Grounds said.
“I believe it was overreach,” said state Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, who said she’s been getting lots of phone calls about the issue.
State Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, added that “ ... you should have the right to shoot your gun or your bow and arrow on your property.”
Both said the General Assembly would act if County Legislature doesn’t.
“If this does not get corrected, we’ll correct it at the state level,” Solon said.
It would take five votes among the nine county legislators to repeal the ordinance. So far three are on record supporting that – Grounds, Bob Spence, R-Lee’s Summit, and Fred Arbanas, D-Lee’s Summit.
“I think this needs to be changed,” Arbanas said Monday.
Also, Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City and chair of the committee overseeing the issue, said last week that the county has to find a way to balance property rights with public safety.
If the new ordinance is repealed, the old rule – going back 30 years – would still apply: You cannot fire a gun, bow and arrow or other weapon capable of causing great harm or death across a property line.
Officials said they heard people’s concerns, that people not only want the right to shoot safety on their own property but also that people need to be able to shoot varmints – a skunk under the barn, birds eating grapes in a vineyard were examples given – and even control the deer population and reduce deer-vehicle accidents.
In response to questions from the floor, Grounds said he’ll push for one other change. The ordinance also outlines the weapons – guns, knives, Tasers, knuckles, others – than cannot be brought onto county property, such as the courthouses or jail. However, as written, those rules also apply to parks, and one person asked about self-defense on, for example, the Little Blue Trace Trail. Grounds said the rules should be eased to allow such things as Tasers.