Following an incident last month, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors went up against several area residents and state lawmakers opposed to amending the weapons and explosives ordinance to increase the distance in which a firearm can be discharged near an occupied structure from 100 to 880 yards. Rather, the board voted to direct members of the county government to study the safety concerns surrounding the ordinance with a deadline of December 4 to provide feedback.
The reason of the meeting stems from an incident on May 6 in which three homes were inadvertently fired upon in the Willowsford community. For about 30 minutes, stray bullets shot from a distance greater than the prohibited distance of 100 yards, but less than the proposed 880 yards, and peppered homes close to the edge of designated discharge area of firearms overlapping the suburban development area which were designated in the early 2000s.
According to a report from the Loudoun Times-Mirror, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office says the shots came from a “machine gun,” and bullets hit homes in the area of Foxtail Fields Drive and Indigo Run Virginia Gold Lanes. No charges were brought forth by the commonwealth’s attorney or sheriff’s office because they could not determine which of four suspected people fired the gun. The sheriff’s office said the bullets traveled up to 1,700 feet, or about one-third of a mile.
At the board meeting, Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said, “When board members asked county law enforcement whether charges were going to be brought, we were told ‘no,’ and the finger was pointed at a weakness of our ordinance.” In response, she proposed to amend the ordinance to extend the distance to discharging firearms at least 880 feet from an occupied structure.
However, the Loudoun area is a high-growth area, becoming increasingly crammed over the years. This caused both citizens and other supervisors to voice their opposition to the ordinance change, which led Umstattd becoming the one who was under fire.
Chris Anders, director of the Loudoun Constitutional Conservatives, called the measure a clear violation of the Second Amendment.
He stated, “My God-given ability to live my life on my private property, however I wish, as long as my actions don’t directly impact another must be preserved.”
The fact that no charges were pursued seemed to dominate a majority of the contention over the ordinance change. Regarding the lack of charges, Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge District) said, “I think it’s ridiculous.”
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin District) echoed Buffington’s remarks, citing two state laws dealing with reckless use of firearm and shooting across the road.
Hitting back at the condemnation, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman (R) responded, “I have to show who discharged that firearm. He added, “You can’t just charge someone to make an example.”
Supervisors Ron A. Meyer (R-Broad Run District) and Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles District) questioned Plowman on whether shooting the firearm was a reckless action.
Plowman said it was not, and there was insufficient evidence to charge the appropriate person.
“If someone got killed, I can’t accept an accident,” Letourneau said.
Nevertheless, regardless of citizens wanting to exercise their Second Amendment rights, there is another important reason the ordinance stands – wildlife management.
Loudoun’s Wildlife Biologist Kevin Rose from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries directed the board’s attention to hunting and vehicle safety in the area. He explained that over 80 percent of the deer population is harvested with firearms in Loudoun County
Rose provided that the area has seen the highest reported number of injury-causing deer collisions in Virginia – an average of 26 annually over the past five years.
“We rely on firearms deer hunting to control the deer herd,” Rose said. “Any restriction that majorly handcuffs the ability — for hunters to use firearms to harvest deer — is going to negatively affect our ability to manage deer,” he added.
The area’s representatives in the General Assembly, State Senator Dick Black (R-Loudon) and Delegate David LaRock (Loudoun), were also in attendance to urge the board to uphold the existing ordinance.
“I think this reeks of a political agenda that seems to chip away at property rights, and even more at the lawful right to use a firearm on one’s own property,” LaRock said. “I think [the proposal] should be torn up, thrown in the trash and never revived again.”
A letter from Loudoun’s Democratic delegation in the state legislature penned in May called for the Board of Supervisors to completely outlaw the discharging of firearms.
“It is our opinion that the local zoning code better provides a mechanism to proactively reduce the likelihood of injuries or damages from stray gunfire occurring in the first place,” the letter stated.
Resident David Radford offered an option to the County’s board to both address the issue of discharging firearms and allowing gun owners to operate their firearms on their own property.
“I’m advocating for a center approach to restructure the current ordinance, to protect the safety my family and friends,” Radford said. He added, “not taking the people’s rights to use guns on their property, but create safe guidelines on private property for shooting and hunting.”
At the end of the meeting, the board voted 6-3 to keep the existing ordinance, with supervisors Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian District), Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn District) and Higgins voting against the motion.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said, “I think we had adequate laws in place with the ordinance that was written in 2000, but the amount of growth in Loudoun County since 2000 and the fact there is dense growth outside of the [discharge of firearms area] red line since 2000 says to me…it requires a safety adjustment.”
Following the vote to uphold the ordinance, the board directed county staff to study safety requirements regarding discharging firearms in the county. They will study prohibiting the discharge of firearms toward building within a limited range of current occupancy permits, prohibiting bullet trajectory over another person’s property without their permission, and an evaluation of “Section 684.03, prohibited area,” with recommendations to adjust the line to account for existing denser development.