A 10-year-old Evans boy is grazed by a .22-caliber bullet while playing in a park. Grovetown homeowners are upset about nightly gunfire from a shotgun competition near their subdivision. Evans residents worry that a neighbor's 2 1/2 acre tract in the middle of their neighborhood is used for deer hunting.
Guns are the common thread running through these three vignettes, but these examples also demonstrate the inevitable conflicts in a community where people are rapidly filling in gaps that once were wide-open spaces.
Just as the number of Columbia County autos hitting deer continues to rise as homes displace habitat, so will people themselves continue to collide.
In the case of guns and neighborhoods, it's time for county officials to referee.
It was just a couple of years ago that county commissioners got involved when some residents complained about neighbors keeping horses in heavily populated neighborhoods. New ordinances restrict livestock to larger parcels of property, and require would-be farmers not to build barns too close to other people's homes.
ut while those horse-farm complaints mostly concerned noise and flies, the new round of worries concerns gun noise and flying bullets.
Matthew Johnson was playing on Riverside Elementary's playground recently when he was struck by a bullet fired by target-shooting kids a quarter-mile away. Residents of Mainstreet and Senators Ridge worry that the Grovetown Lions Club "turkey shoot" endangers their kids even as the gunfire unnerves their families. And Joe Gaddini says he was startled when a landowner erected a deer stand on a small, vacant lot in the middle of his neighborhood.
No charges were filed in Matthew's shooting and it's a miracle that the boy wasn't seriously hurt. The two boys firing the rifle obviously are clueless about gun safety, and unaware or uncaring that a marksman must be responsible for every bullet that leaves his barrel. (This lesson, by the way, is among the first taught in the Georgia safe-hunter course.)
In the Grovetown case, homeowners like Jimmie Bowden and Gary Rausch were shocked to find the Lions Club competition had few restrictions because it was set up just outside the Grovetown city limits. The charity fund-raiser didn't violate any gun laws, but zoning officials said the turkey shoot ex-ceeded its limit as a special event.
The Deerwood Acres deer-hunting case and others like it are stickier because of our community's many active sportsmen. Other than state and federal laws that keep firearms away from schools and public streets, it's open season for gun use in Columbia County. The only exceptions are the cities of Harlem and Grovetown, and in neighborhoods whose own covenants restrict gun use.
"Columbia County is developing more and more in rural areas," says Columbia County Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Morris. "You have more of a mixture of hunters and residents now, which is dangerous."
Does Columbia County need new gun laws? Yes. And Second Amendment arguments don't hold water here; legal residents are free to own all the firearms they want, but have no business firing them in heavily populated areas. It would be nice if common courtesy prevented all conflicts among neighbors, but it's unreasonable to rely on good manners while population growth squeezes more people together.
It is time for Columbia County to follow the lead of its two cities and study restrictions on where guns may be fired. Like little Matthew, we've gotten lucky so far; but with more people, and more guns, Columbia County should make changes before our luck runs out.
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