The Island County Commissioners are earning praise this week from some 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 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 outgoing 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 did agree 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 shooting areas that are within 500 of residences or structures occupied by humans or domestic animals.
The proposed amendments have not been formally adopted or even agreed upon by the board, but they are being lauded as positive changes from some of the proposal’s early critics.
“Most of the big things have been amended,” said Ron Brown, president of the Holmes Harbor Rod and 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, he said, 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 slowdown means a vote won’t be taken until Commissioner-elect Jill Johnson, a Republican, takes office in January.
“Only time will tell how this works out,” Brown said.
At the same time, the proposal is still generating criticism from others. On Monday, North Whidbey resident Bill Strowbridge introduced a “tongue-in-cheek” ordinance of his own.
It seeks to establish petition procedures that would allow the closure of roads on Whidbey Island.
The impetus for the no-shooting areas petition process was based on public safety concerns and Strowbridge argued that with that logic, his proposal should also be considered as the National Safety Council has deemed motor vehicle accidents one of the top five leading causes of death in the United States.
“This about saving lives,” he told the board during Monday’s meeting.
Price Johnson, who was the only commissioner physically present, smiled during his presentation, as he also read off a list of proposed road closures. It included streets that go past her personal driveway along with the road to Homola’s house.
Homola was absent and Commissioner Kelly Emerson was attending electronically from her office on Camano Island.
Strowbridge said later that he didn’t expect his proposal to move forward, but hoped it made clear that there are more pressing public safety concerns and the board should not cater so heavily to the interests of select groups.
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.
“The question is, do have to accidentally discharge and kill someone to prove that,” he said.
The sheriff said he does believe there is need for additional discussion and to bring the two parties together to help resolve the issue.
Emerson, who spoke strongly against the original proposal, said this week she was pleased revisions were being considered. She hadn’t reviewed the new draft proposal in detail, however, and couldn’t say whether she would support it.
“It’s hearsay at this point,” Emerson said. “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 county is growing and this is an important discussion to be having.
She applauded the board for agreeing to take more time on the issue, saying there is a lot of concern among the public and it’s critical to insure that everyone is clear about just what it being proposed.
“I want to take the time to get that right,” she said.