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Polk Township gets pushback on gun ordinance

The Polk Township supervisors received a letter Tuesday morning threatening legal action if they continue to pursue its proposed firearms ordinance.

The Firearms Industry Consulting Group, a civil rights defense firm in Bechtelsville, wrote on behalf of their client, the Firearm Owners Against Crime based in McMurray, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

The letter stated, “In the event Polk Township takes any further steps in enacting this proposal, FOAC is prepared to file private criminal complaints against each official involved in the proposing and enacting of the proposal and file suit against the Township, which will result in substantial additional burdens on the taxpayers. Clearly, it is in the best of interest of all of those involved that the proposal not be considered. Accordingly, I am respectfully requesting that no further action be taken in relation to the proposal or that it otherwise be removed from consideration. In the event the Township refuses to do so, please let me know whether you will accept service of the Complaint or require service by the Sheriff.”

Attorney Joshua Prince, the letter’s author, contends that passing the ordinance would be a first degree misdemeanor under Title 18 Crimes and Offenses of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

Section 6120 of Title 18 states that “No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this commonwealth.”

The ordinance

Supervisors’ Chairman Brian Ahner said, “Our goal was not to prevent anyone from owning a gun or using a gun, just to keep our residents safe.”

The ordinance proposed by Polk Township would prohibit the discharge of firearms in:

• Any residential subdivision;

• Within 150 yards of any adjacent occupied structure, camp or farm;

• On any property smaller than 1 continuous acre;

• Under any circumstance where the bullet or other fired projectile will not remain on the same property where it was discharged;

• Anywhere in the township before dawn or after dusk.

It also prohibits reckless, careless or improper use of any firearm being used for the purpose of causing damage or harm to people or their property within the township.

A firearm would include any gun, shotgun, rifle, handgun, pistol and any other device that propels a projectile through force. It does not apply to a bow and arrow, crossbow, BB gun or pellet gun.

If a person does discharge a firearm in the township, then the ordinance would give law enforcement the right to seize the weapon as evidence.

Pa. law

Pennsylvania law does cover the reckless endangering of another person under the chapter about assault in Title 18 Chapter 27.

In Section 2705 of that chapter, “A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury.”

After that, where a person is permitted to shoot a firearm or bow and arrow is covered under Title 34 of the Game Code.

Title 34, Section 2505 defines a safety zone as “the area within 150 yards around and that area which is below the highest point of any occupied dwelling house, residence, or other building or camp occupied by human beings, or any barn, stable, or other building used in connection therewith or any attached or detached playground of any school, nursery school or day-care center.”

If hunting with bow and arrow, crossbow or falconry, the safety zone is reduced to within 50 yards of the areas already mentioned, and within 150 yards of “any attached or detached playground of any school, nursery school or day-care center.”

In Section 2507 of the Game Code titled Restriction on Shooting, the law goes into those things a person cannot do while hunting. For instance, a person cannot “discharge at any time any firearm or release an arrow at random in the general direction of any game or wildlife not plainly visible for the purpose of routing or frightening them.”

Target shooting

The section does not apply to people using a firearm to signal for help in an emergency, or shooting at “any regularly organized rifle, pistol, shotgun or archery range, shooting association or club.”

The section does give guidance on target shooting. It states that target shooting can be done on a property owned by the shooter or by a guest of the property owner, but it has to be “at a properly constructed target or mark or a dead tree protected by a natural or artificial barrier so that the ball, bullet or arrow cannot travel more than 15 yards beyond the target aimed at, after making due allowance for deflection in any direction not to exceed an angle of 45 degrees.

The target shooting also has to be kept “within 200 yards of the camp or other headquarters where the person shooting is quartered or is an invited guest or visitor.”

Ahner said he doesn’t know what the township will do, but it will be discussed with their solicitor.

Ahner said at the supervisors meeting in December that he has been a member of a local gun club for 35 years and is its current president. The proposed ordinance just came down to safety.

“We want our residents to be safe,” he said.