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Chester County Press

Editorial: One morning in Kennett Township

01/13/2015 12:29PM ● By Richard Gaw
It is a February morning near Fairville Road in New Garden Township, and the air is thickened with the heaviness of a cold fog. Many of the township's citizens are losing a winless battle with their alarm clock, refusing to believe that what awaits them on this day – their jobs, their obligations, hearing about their children's day over dinner – is any better than a few more minutes' sleep.

Suddenly, gunshots permeate the early morning gray. A registered gun owner begins what has become his daily ritual – a few rounds before work, fired into a target on his property. The sound – Pop! Pop! -- has become Kennett Township's unofficial morning bugle call, a revelry blast that informs all neighbors within earshot that he is within his legal right to take aim at a target with a firearm and shoot. To many residents, the gunshots are a defiant sound, an in-your-face privilege given to him by a combination of the Second Amendment and a binder full of signed legislation that legally allows him to take careful aim upon that target.

The gun owner is midway through his second round when less than a mile away, a mother pulls herself out of bed, dresses in workout apparel appropriate for the weather, laces up her running shoes, and leaves her husband and daughter to fend for themselves for an hour or so while she drinks in the cold comfort of familiarity – the winding roads, the world not yet fully awake, and the quiet rhythm of her motion. And so the township beats on, a day just like any other. A runner runs, and a shotgun fires.

On Oct. 20, 2014, by a 138-56 vote, the Pennsylvania State House and Senate approved House Bill 80, which significantly amended the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, thus clearing the way for organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue townships and municipalities that have enacted firearms ordinances that are stricter than those currently on the state's ledger. The bill greatly increases the damages that can be recovered by a plaintiff, including attorney fees, expert witness fees, costs and compensation for lost income.

The law was four years in the making before it was passed, orchestrated by a persistent gun lobby that hounded state legislature to grant them a special standing to sue municipalities who had passed their own gun ordinances and did so not to punish responsible gun owners but to better protect their citizens. Thus, with one swift measure, the gun ordinances enacted by the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, as well as those passed by 28 municipalities in Pennsylvania – Kennett Township among them – were rendered meaningless. On Nov. 5, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors passed a motion to enter the township as a party plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Commonwealth, but on Dec. 17, it voted to repeal its gun laws, to eliminate the potential of being sued by the NRA.

For the better part of a year, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors and their township solicitor, with input from township citizens, took a rough outline of gun laws taken from other municipalities, went over them word for word, and polished them until they were nearly crystalline perfect. One of the laws provided guidelines as to when firearms can be used. Now, there are no laws that dictate the hours a gun owner can shoot in the township. They've all been wiped away. Thus, the gun owner is free to shoot whenever he wants, such as on this cold February morning.

In a split second, his concentration has wavered. He is distracted from his target practice by a lone deer that has emerged from the corner of his property. An errant gun shot goes off, not in the direction of the target but somewhere else, somewhere the bullet is not supposed to go. Out there. Towards humanity. It was not his intention. It never is.

The runner has rounded a bend along Fairville Road. She has picked up her pace now. She breathes in the crisp air. For a moment, she feels unstoppable.