By Richard L. Gaw
The most tinkered-with document in recent Kennett Township memory is about to receive yet another makeover.
Before about 50 township residents on April 7, the township's Board of Supervisors and its solicitor shared proposed amendments to its controversial Ordinance No. 212, which aims to regulate the use of and discharge of firearms in the township. The ordinance, set into motion in the township last September, has served as a lightning rod of conversation in the township by residents on both sides of the issue. Some feel its restrictions provide an increased measure of safety, while gun owners who use firearms in the township for target practice feel the ordinance is both restrictive of their rights and short on specifics.
Over the course of two hours, the board, along with township solicitor Dave Sander, shared the re-wording of several provisions of the document. Although the township can not enact ordinances that restrict ownership, possession, transfer and transportation of firearms, Sander said the basis of the proposed amendments center around the usage of firearms within the township.
"If the state had wanted the township or county or municipality not to be able to tell you whether or not you can use your gun in certain conditions, they would have employed the word, 'Use,' but they don't," Sander said. "Therefore, it is my legal opinion that this board may enact an ordinance that reasonably dictates the use of firearms under reasonable circumstances, to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of the township."
The key amendments being offered to the existing document included a change in the definition of "Firearms," changes to restrictions, and a re-wording of violations and penalties.
According to Sander, the new definition of "Firearm," taken directly from state statutes, is "any weapon which is designed to or may readily be converted to expel any projectile by the action of an explosive, or the frame or receiver of any such weapon."
This new definition, which Sander said is more general and easier to enforce, eliminates those who are asked to enforce the law to have to measure the length of barrels and muzzles of firearms, which had been specified in the original definition.
The ordinance will also give broadened geographic restrictions for firearms usage, to include that no discharge will be permitted "within 150 yards of any occupied residence, camp, industrial or commercial building, farm house or building, or school or playground without the permission of the occupants."
In addition, the new ordinance will eliminate the provision that restricted discharge within 100 yards of a property line. The restrictions will keep its current provision that states that "no shell, bullet and/or projectile may cross a property line.”
Sander said that the township is re-interpreting the provision that called for adequate safety backstops for all target shooting. Under the new wording, the provision states that discharge will not be permitted "except with a backstop, baffle, horizontal bullet catcher or other appropriate safeguards for the type of firearms and ammunition used," as established in the National Rifle Association's current source book.
"We've taken a vague standard and made it into a much more objective standard where the folks enforcing the ordinance can tell whether there is a violation or not," he said.
Sander said that the ordinance will keep its provision that calls for no discharge of firearms between sunset and 8 a.m.
The supervisors are also changing the language on the discharge of firearms, in order to better define the term, "disregarding or endangering the health safety and welfare of others," which will be defined as, "pointing a firearm at another person, or at a person's real or personal property other than a proper target, discharging a firearm randomly and not toward a specific target, or discharging a firearm without using the proper safety techniques required for discharging the firearm."
"We've taken a narrow definition and narrowed it down to a clear and concise definition of what it means to disregard or endanger the health, safety and welfare of others," Sander said.
The last change proposed will be the manner in which the ordinance is enforced through violations and penalties. Currently, enforcement of a violation is being categorized as a criminal offense, but will now be defined as a civil offense, which can be enforced through a civil proceeding by a district justice and established a maximum $500 fine, and can be appealed to a court of common pleas.
The board took no formal action on the amended ordinance, but spent the remainder of the evening hearing from residents, each of whom weighed in on both sides of the issue.
Board supervisor Scudder Stevens said that the board and Mr. Sander will review the residents' comments, incorporate a new draft, and review further amendments with the township sometime in May.