Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT - “Bullets whizzing by” was the term of the day as Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors considered expanding firearm discharge bans.
Complaints about gunshot noise and unsafe firing of guns triggered a discussion on increased regulations at the Feb. 4 supervisors meeting.
Sponsored by Supervisors Virginia Bass and Mike Wilson, the discussion led to the board’s directing staff to develop new regulation proposals.
The Samoa Peninsula area and the greater area including Manila are of concern but Wilson said the issue “isn’t about one particular area of Humboldt County” because “I get complaints and I think we all get complaints related to people feeling safe in their neighborhoods and also when they’re out recreating.”
Wilson said the problem is considered to be limited to target shooting, as hunting “has its own set of regulations associated with it.”
He added that new regulations wouldn’t affect established shooting ranges like the Redwood Gun Club in the greater Arcata/Manila area, which are already well-regulated.
Supervisor Steve Madrone said he’s gotten many shooting-related complaints from McKinleyville residents but added that there are also those who want to use firearms in rural areas nearby.
“I support the rights of people who want to do that but the important thing is to recognize that with all rights comes that other ‘r’ – responsibility,” he continued.
He said gets many complaint calls from people who live on large parcels in rural areas and the noise of gunfire can be disturbing.
“And with bullets whizzing, they’re not sure what the origin is and people will tell me they talk with their neighbors and sometimes that works out pretty well but sometimes the individual gets even more arrogant and more in your face about it,” Madrone said. He added, “It’s that responsibility piece that is so critical to this.”
The county has already enacted controls on shooting, prohibiting it in county parks, including the Mad River and Clam Beach park areas, and within a half-mile of highways. The highway buffer was motivated by unsafe shooters in the Fernbridge area and that situation is said to have significantly improved.
Bass’s district includes the Samoa Peninsula, where residents have complained about shooting in an area owned by the Samoa-Pacific Group. That company owns the town of Samoa and has allowed the firearm use but Bass said it becomes more problematic as residential development continues.
She said discussing the issue “makes sense” and recalled how action was called for in Fernbridge “because people were having bullets whiz over their heads and while people may have been well-intending to shoot in a certain direction that would have been safe, that wasn’t always happening.”
The peninsula is in the midst of residential development, Bass continued, and “given the fact that there will be so many more residences out there, it does have a feeling of a city … and I think we should do what we can to provide a sense of safety.”
Sheriff Billy Honsal said shooting on private property in unincorporated areas is allowed – he described complaints his department got from the Pine Hill area. Upon investigation, it was established that the firearm activity was being done by a private property owner and it was “within his legal right to do so.”
Although the shooting “disturbed his neighbors and was very disruptive,” it was not illegal, Honsal continued, because it wasn’t criminally negligent.
But he also said a ban on using firearms within 150 yards of an occupied building is “reasonable.”
During a public comment session, residents of Manila and staff from the Redwood Community Action Agency told supervisors about Samoa area residents’ safety and nuisance concerns.
But Brian Hunter, who grew up in Ferndale, advised supervisors to be careful about over-regulation.
He said that when he was growing up, “It was socially acceptable to have firearms in our pickups” and “I’ve systematically seen our areas of access be denied for shooting … they’re systematically getting shut down.”
The shooting area in Samoa has been checked by the Sheriff’s Office and deemed “a safe place to shoot,” Hunter said, adding that nearby residents “need to go out and investigate themselves and verify that they are not shooting toward their houses – yes, you are hearing them firing the firearms but they are doing it in a safe manner.”
After further discussion, Wilson made a motion to direct staff to develop a ban on shooting near occupied buildings, expand prohibitions to include shooting on the Samoa Peninsula and to set up a structure for creating community-specific ad hoc committees on gun use issues.
Wilson’s motion was unanimously approved.