What started off as a request to update Huntsville’s firearm discharge bylaw resulted in a storm of controversy leading council to request that staff conduct a public consultation.
The issue was first raised by Councillor Tim Withey who asked that municipal staff revisit the bylaw, which includes a schedule of areas where the discharge of a firearm is prohibited. He said that since the bylaw had been created many subdivisions had gone up. He also said he’d heard from a resident at Woodland Heights who wanted the area included in the bylaw.
Staff returned with a proposed update, some of which was vehemently opposed. Concerns included the proposed restriction of the size of the property where the discharge of a firearm could take place as well as referring to a firearm as a weapon, among others. Many questioned what had prompted the proposed changes and accused the municipality of arbitrarily exercising its power without proper consultation.
As a result, council asked staff to conduct public consultations before bringing an amended draft bylaw forward for approval. Following a month-long online public consultation process staff returned to council with a new draft bylaw on September 28, 2020. Among the changes, staff recommended decreasing the required size of urban properties where a firearm could be discharged from at least 7.4 acres (three hectares) to less than half at three acres (1.21 hectares) or more.
“Upon further review, it was determined that as the maximum distance that a shotgun shot will go is approximately 50 yards and the maximum distance an arrow will travel is up to 40 yards, and that these two travel distances should be the defining factor in establishing minimum property sizes. As such, the minimum property size required has been reduced to 1.21 Hectares or 3 Acres or greater in size,” noted Corey Crewson, by-law enforcement officer for the Town, in a report compiled for council.
Other concerns in the previous draft included those expressed by the duck hunting community regarding the 100-metre restriction around designated bodies of water, which they said would severely impact the practise. “It was noted that the areas have been used for and hunted from for several years and conformed with the current Discharge of Firearms Bylaw 95- 40, as there was no property size requirement. An exemption has been included explicitly for duck hunting within the 100 metres restricted areas around the included lakes,” stated Crewson.
Air guns, pellet guns, paintball guns, and spring guns were treated the same as firearms in the draft bylaw which also received opposition because the majority of those who provided input during public consultation indicated “that these are typically used as toys and were also used to teach children about safe gun handling and operation. It was noted by some of the responses that people would take their kids into the back yard to plink off a couple pop cans with their children and would have no safety concern,” added Crewson.
At the request of the Fox Lake Association, Crewson also said that Fox Lake has been included as a restricted waterbody in the amended bylaw.
Staff have also studied and included best practises in the bylaw. “These changes will provide for a safer community and allow legal hunting to continue,” he added.
Councillor Dan Armour said he wanted to see an exemption in the bylaw to allow target shooting with crossbows and compound bows on just an acre.
Councillor Tim Withey said he’d be in full support of Armour’s suggestion, while Councillor Bob Stone said he’d take it a step further. He said he’d remove the land size requirement in order to discharge a firearm entirely. “I have no problem identifying the urban areas that should be prohibited, but Huntsville is 80 per cent rural. That’s the way we love it and why people move here. I don’t think we need to prescribe the size of the property that people can shoot on if we’ve already identified the restricted area. I know some properties that are four and five acres that are pencil thin that would be unsafe to shoot on and two acres that are plenty safe to shoot on,” he said.
Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano asked Crewson to weigh in and he said while adding a one-acre limit for target shooting with bows would not be a problem, entirely removing land-size requirement on which a firearm can be discharged could be dangerous.
In the end, council agreed to add the one-acre allowance to the bylaw for those wishing to target shoot with their crossbows or compound. Council also approved all of the other amendments recommended by staff as a result of the public input process. You can find more on that here.
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