Weddington council preserves property owners’ right to hunt in town
The Weddington Town Council voted 4 to 1 in favor of leaving unchanged the town’s current firearms ordinance, preserving the right of property owners to hunt.
Before the final vote, council members debated the right of property owners to hunt against the rights of residents who believe hunting violates their quiet, privacy and safety.
Those in the audience who spoke overwhelmingly favored leaving the current firearms ordinance, which prohibits residents from using firearms within 150 yards of a dwelling. Long time resident Walter Staton, a founder of the town and vociferous advocate for banning guns from the town, was the only one who spoke out against the current ordinance.
One after the other, avid hunters spoke proudly of their gun-safety training and the precautions they take in all kinds of hunting, including deer, coyote and ducks. Mayor Nancy Anderson and Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry shared the opinion of many that hunting inside the town controls the deer population, reducing the risk of deer-vehicle collisions.
One resident observed: “Be careful … The deer you didn’t want to shoot could end up in your front seat.”
Staton voiced his dissent while standing in front of a large poster proclaiming “Merry Christmas – Hunting and Homes Don’t Mix” with a hand-painted picture of a deer.
“People have the right to walk safely and not be scared,” he said, adding that Marshville and Wingate do not allow firearms discharged within their town limits.
People on both sides of the debate stressed the importance of the public’s safety. Town Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Honeycutt, acting as an informational resource for the council, detailed efforts made to ensure public safety. For instance, Honeycutt explained how a concerned resident and the president of a homeowner’s association met with hunters and resolved an issue where a hunter was unknowingly violating the ordinance.
After personally touring properties, inspecting deer stands and pacing out firearms discharge distances, Honeycutt said he’s confident the majority of Weddington’s hunters are following the ordinance. The deputy praised hunters, noting their “intent is respect for personal property, education and safety.”
Based on his experience and study of town incident logs, “I did not see anything that would make me think there is a safety issue at this point,” Honeycutt said. “It appears that most of the complaints are around noise and privacy issues, where people feel they can’t enjoy their property the way they would like.”
The town has never had a firearms accident, though “I can’t predict that” a freak accident won’t occur, he said.
With that in mind, Councilman Werner Thommiser urged the council to be proactive. “Just because no one has been shot is not the issue,” he argued. “The potential exists.”
To this end, Thommiser advocated a two-part text amendment that would change the yardage or require hunters to use only multi-shot discharge, referring to the pellets sprayed from a shotgun. “I would like to extend the yardage to a minimum of 200 yards or eliminate slugs,” he proposed.
In the end, only Thommiser supported any change. Councilman Robert Gilmartin was absent. Barry called Thommiser’s motion difficult to enforce and urged members to consider its potential unintended consequences.
“You are watching the erosion of property owner rights,” he said, and affecting “what people can do on their own property,” a move he described as “losing down a slippery slope.”
Mayor Anderson voiced a dilemma likely faced by many leaders in towns across America as the landscape continues to evolve from rural to residential. “Every time you put something on the books to protect value and citizenry, you are infringing on someone’s personal rights.”
Barry echoed these sentiments. “Where does one person’s property rights infringe on the rights of another?” he asked. “There is no perfect answer.”