The Island County Commissioners are earning praise this week from some early critics of a proposal to create a petition process for the establishment of no-shooting zones in rural areas.
Following a heated meeting last month in which a first draft was vetted before the public, the board met several more times and is now considering a range of hefty amendments that would essentially exempt existing and licensed shooting clubs as well as established hunting areas.
According to Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who serves as chairwoman, the board also promised to slow way down and hold public meetings on Whidbey and Camano islands before taking action on the ordinance.
“We all agreed we wanted to have ample time to vet this before the public,” Price Johnson said.
The original draft, sponsored primarily by Commissioner Angie Homola, was the result of controversy over a private shooting range off West Beach Road. Neighbors believe it to be unsafe and asked the board earlier this year to ban shooting in the area.
The commissioners refused but agreed to look at creating a petition process in which communities could seek to create or dissolve no-shooting areas. The final decision would continue to be up to the board.
Along with exemptions for shooting clubs and hunting areas, other significant changes now proposed include a requirement that 60 percent of landowners in the affected area sign the petition — as opposed to the 50 percent first considered — and that a ban could only affect discharge areas that are within 500 feet of residences or structures occupied by humans or domestic animals in order .
“Most of the big things have been amended,” said Ron Brown, president of the Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club’s board.
“I think the gun club is happy,” he said.
Price Johnson met with club leaders and helped champion the proposed changes, which was appreciated, Brown said. People can get “pretty jumpy” when it comes to Second Amendment issues, however, and while the club’s big concerns have been addressed, it’s not a ringing endorsement.
He also noted that these are just proposed amendments — nothing has been approved yet. The slow down means a vote won’t be taken until Commissioner-elect Jill Johnson takes office in January.
“Only time will tell how this works out,” Brown said.
Law enforcement authorities haven’t taken a strong position on the proposal but Island County Sheriff Mark Brown has confirmed the private range that sparked the petition rules has been looked at by police and found to comply with existing laws.
He also said this week that he’s not aware of historical data of accidental shootings in Island County that point to an outstanding public safety issue.
“I can’t say that line has been crossed,” the sheriff said.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson, who spoke strongly against the original proposal, said this week she was pleased revisions were being considered but “we haven’t settled on anything yet.”
Republican and Commissioner-elect Johnson has not vowed support of the new rules either but she did say last week that the county is growing and this is an important discussion to be having.
“I want to take the time to get that right,” Johnson said.