Pennsylvania township targets legal gun owner over private range

AP Photo/Wilson Ring

I have to say, the supervisors in Lower Alsace, Pennsylvania have some pretty screwed up priorities. At a recent meeting in the small township, those in charge blithely dismissed the concerns of a resident who was upset about large groups of young kids and pre-teens harassing elderly residents in one neighborhood, while vowing to shut down one man’s private backyard gun range even if they have to change local law to do so.

It’s important to note that while neighbors have complained about errant rounds crossing into their property, police have found zero evidence that is, in fact, the case. Instead, it sounds to me like longtime residents are annoyed that a recent arrival is taking advantage of the fact that he can shoot on his property, unlike the previous owner.

Problems with rampant shooting on the Wolters Lane property were first reported by neighboring residents in May, Pottiger said in previous comments to the Reading Eagle.
A real estate listing on Zillow shows the property was bought by a new owner in February.
Police have since investigated the property after residents reported that bullets from the property were hitting neighboring houses, but found no evidence confirming those claims, Pottiger previously said.
Central Berks Regional Police Chief Ray Serafin said that if the new rules are approved, shooting at the Wolters Lane range would become illegal.
Serafin said residents who hear shooting and call police after the new rules take effect may be asked to testify in court if police are unable to obtain evidence of shooting.

The new rules limit shooting outside the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and require all private gun ranges obtain a permit to operate; a permit that will only be given to a handful of properties that occupy a rural conservation district and are at least 5 acres. In essence, it’s a near-total ban on private gun ranges, and while it looks like it’s aimed at silencing one gun owner in particular, the rule would restrict many landowners from shooting on their property in the future.

Interestingly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a case that will have a direct impact on the Lower Alsace gun range ban. In Barris v. Stroud Township, which the court accepted back in June, the question is whether or not Stroud Township violated the rights of property owner Jonathan Barris, who applied for a permit to construct a range on his property but was denied by a zoning officer because his property didn’t meet the criteria for a range.

The resident’s property was located in the Township’s R-1 Low Density Residential Zoning District.  The ordinance in question permitted the discharging of firearms at shooting ranges but only at locations where the use is permitted by the Township’s zoning ordinance.  The zoning ordinance permits shooting ranges in two of the Township’s zoning districts but not in the R-1 District.  The ordinance also requires a minimum lot size of five acres for a shooting range.  Accordingly, anyone proposing a shooting range in the Township must have a property that satisfies the minimum lot size requirement and is located in one of the two zoning districts where the use is permitted.

Sounds a lot like Lower Alsace’s new requirements, though Lower Alsace goes even further by limiting ranges to just one rural conservation district. While the trial court judge found in favor of Stroud Township, the Commonwealth Court reversed the decision and found that the Second Amendment protects not just the right to keep and bear arms, but the right to “acquire and maintain proficiency in firearm use” as well. Stroud Township’s ordinance violated that right by restricting private ranges to just a handful of locations, though the court did agree that municipalities should be able to set some zoning laws in place to regulate them.

Lower Alsace supervisors could save the township a boatload of money by waiting to see what the state Supreme Court says in this case, but it sounds like they’re hellbent on shutting down the backyard range first and worrying about lawsuits later. As for that guy who tried to alert supervisors to the juvenile delinquents in his neighborhood, unfortunately for him the supervisors don’t sound worried (or interested) at all.

[R]esident Richard Ferro said he and other elderly residents of Byron Street near Carsonia Park have been repeatedly harassed and verbally abused by gangs of children.
He said a group of about 10 to 15 children, ranging in age from 8 to 12, are blocking traffic in the street, vandalizing park property, harassing residents and responding with profanities and racial slurs when confronted for their behavior.
He said the children also scream racial slurs at people passing by. He said the harassment is prompting some older residents to stay indoors.
“Everybody that lives on that block in their 70s or older, they’re afraid to go out, they’re afraid to say anything,” Ferro said. “These kids bully these people, I’m talking elderly people.”
Serafin advised Ferro to call police at their non-emergency number if problems continue.
Not even an “I’ll go check this out myself,” just a “call the police but don’t bother 911 with this nonsense”. Meanwhile, if you hear your neighbor shooting on his private property, not only should you dial 911, but you should be prepared to testify in court as well. Like I said, there are some seriously misplaced priorities in Lower Alsace. I’m sure the township has its charms, but I’m grateful for my own spot of land in Virginia where the noise ordinance kicks in at 11 p.m. and the rolling hills and fields are filled with the sounds of the Second Amendment almost every weekend.