Licking County News

City officials aim for added safety in legal gunfire zones

Complaint could prompt new rules for shooting guns in Pataskala

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Pataskala's law that designates about two-thirds of the city as a legal gun-discharge zone is under review after another complaint from a resident.

"It's sad we're not going to be able to enjoy our yard because of the shooting," Jadeen Hergenrother of Sims Road told Pataskala City Council June 3.

The discharge ordinance, approved in 2004, allows people to fire guns in areas of the city that are zoned agricultural and rural residential.

Areas where gunfire is prohibited are mostly along Broad Street and in older parts of the city.

Some of the rural residential areas where shooting is permitted wrap around medium-density residential areas.

Hergenrother has spoken to City Council twice about the gun-discharge law since moving to Pataskala in October 2011.

The first time, in September 2012, Hergenrother said she was horrified to learn that it is legal for people to shoot guns in their yards in the city limits.

This time, she reported an April incident in which the neighbors on Dixon Road allegedly were drinking and shooting at targets.

Pataskala police responded to five complaints on April 27 and 28 regarding the shooting.

The final call was investigated at 1:13 a.m. April 28 and two people were reported to have guns.

According to the police department's call log, "the officer temporarily took possession of guns and investigated the complaint. The officer talked to homeowners Taryn Keller and Dustin Keller. Officers advised no more shooting at night. Taryn Keller advised the person who was shooting didn't know not to shoot and no more shooting would happen."

Dustin Keller, who did not attend the June 3 City Council meeting, said his family moved to Dixon Road because the property is in a discharge zone.

He said he has an Ohio concealed handgun license and is a military veteran, so he knows how to shoot safely.

"I'm a trained professional and I don't like being told what to do on my property," he said.

Taryn Keller said shooters on the family's property fire east at a backstop.

The Kellers own 7 acres that abut the south side of the Hergenrother home and other Sims Road properties.

Taryn Keller said on April 27, people at her home fired guns during the day and then had a party that night.

People she referred to as friends of a friend showed up and shot guns until she asked them to leave, she said.

Safety committee's

review

City Council's safety committee met June 3 and talked about ways to for police to step up enforcement.

Police Chief Bruce Brooks said in both cases reported by the Hergenrothers, no arrests were made because the city's gun-discharge law allows people to shoot on their own property.

He said if the Kellers or other shooters had fired into another property or were shooting while impaired by alcohol, police could have made an arrest.

"Personally, I think there should be some more regulations," Brooks said. "People should be able to enjoy their backyard."

Councilman Bernard Brush chairs the agriculture committee, which reviews the discharge map annually.

He said problems with noise can occur but it's more about people abusing the privileges of the discharge law.

"Council needs to come up with something that would give the police more tools for people that are abusing the privilege," Brush said.

NRA standards

Council President Dan Hayes, who serves on the safety committee, said the Ohio Revised Code does not have restrictions on weapons-discharge zones.

Hayes said the state delegates that power to the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who has adopted a manual from the National Rifle Association as the state's standard.

Eric Postell, outdoor education supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, confirmed that the department's director, currently James Zehringer, sets standards for target shooting in the state.

According to section 1533.84 of the Ohio Revised Code, "The chief of the division of wildlife ... shall adopt rules establishing generally accepted standards for shooting ranges. These rules shall be no more stringent than National Rifle Association standards, and include standards for the limitation and suppression of noise, standards for the hours of operation of shooting ranges of the various types and at the various locations of ranges and standards for public safety."

Postell said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources does not have enforcement power if shooting ranges are violating the law.

"We do not have ability to enforce those rules as long as (ranges) operate according to the standards as set out by guidelines through the NRA," he said. "They can't be shut down unless there is a city regulation on noise or something that prevents them from shooting."

Postell said if someone notices a violation, they can call their local police force and pursue it as a civil matter.

Hayes said the law includes "pretty stringent rules" but also noted that it lists violations as a "nuisance," which means they are considered to be a civil matter, not a criminal matter.

He asked Rufus Hurst, the city's law director, to review the NRA standards to make sure that if the city adopts the standards, the Pataskala Division of Police would be given more enforcement power.

Hayes said he ordered a digital copy of the NRA standards for the committee to review.

Resolving the issue

Committee Chairwoman Pat Sagar said the safety committee would come up with recommendations that also would be sent to the agriculture committee for review.

Brooks said he'd like the city to restrict the hours a person can shoot a firearm and to better regulate the area for target shooting so it's farther away from any neighboring property and "so people will be more respectful to their neighbors."

The committee also agreed to review all types of shooting -- hunting and recreational -- for a more comprehensive approach.

"We don't want to limit anyone's Second Amendment rights," Hayes said. "But (shooters) have to do this safely and not violate other people's rights."

Councilman Mike Compton, who is a member of the Pataskala Sportsman Club, said he met with Jadeen and Rob Hergenrother after they first voiced concerns in September and tried to mediate the situation.

Compton said his main concern about the April incident is that alcohol reportedly was involved. But, he said, police cannot regulate drinking on private property.

He said his second concern is about property rights and violations that affect neighboring properties.

"You have to have enough property to do the things you want to do," Compton said.

Jadeen Hergenrother said the family would never have moved to Pataskala if she had known about the city's firearms discharge law.

"I'm OK with the hunting but this is a safety issue," Rob Hergenrother said.

The Kellers maintain they are following the law and shooting safely.

Taryn Keller said the family moved to the Dixon Road home in August 2012 and the person who lived there before them, a police officer, also shot regularly.

"It's odd that the people who lived here before shot for years," she said.

Taryn Keller said after the September incident, they started calling neighbors on Sims Road to let them know when they would be shooting.

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