Man's target shooting worries neighbors

Fearing stray bullets, they want law changed to restrict legal use of guns

September 07, 1999|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Some of Rob Shiflett's neighbors are afraid.

They take a different route to pick up their mail. Others are wary about having company -- worried that guests might be struck by a stray bullet fired by Shiflett on his Bernoudy Road property in White Hall.

But Shiflett, owner of the Christian Soldier gun shop in Parkville, said he enjoys shooting on his property and that the law supports him, despite neighbors' efforts to have it changed.

The clash has shattered the tranquilness in the northern Baltimore County neighborhood where Shiflett owns property but does not live. He lives in Parkville.

Shiflett said the conflict involves the firing of three guns on his 16.5-acre property in the past two months, including a 9 mm machine gun.

The gun shop owner said he and members of his family shot at paper targets in front of a berm on the land, where he plans to build a house. He said he did it because it's his land -- and because he can.

"To join a club or something is going to cost money," said Shiflett, who also is a paramedic with the Baltimore County Fire Department. "It's legitimate, it's legal to do."

Shiflett's land is outside what is defined as the county's Metropolitan District, so it is not illegal to discharge a firearm, said Bill Toohey, Baltimore County Police spokesman.

"By all appearances, Mr. Shiflett is operating within the law," he said.

But that doesn't mean his neighbors feel safe.

Two weeks ago, David Boyd called police to report he felt a bullet fly by his head when he was outside his house, and he blames Shiflett. Shiflett disputes the claim.

Boyd said that he has become so fearful of his and his family's safety that he changed his route to get his mail and doesn't let his dog roam in the woods.

"It's just a situation that has been thrust upon us, and we're just very nervous," Boyd said.

Not all of Shiflett's neighbors are nervous. Stuart Weaver said he doesn't think the bullets will go beyond Shiflett's property and that no one is in danger.

"He's got a right to keep doing it, if that's what he enjoys, as long as it's in a safe environment and doesn't really bother anybody," he said.

It bothers Kathleen Cohn. She lives next to Shiflett's property and said she's become more cautious about having company because guests usually sit on the house's deck. She said she doesn't think she would get shot, but she said the trees between Shiflett's property and hers make it impossible for her to see who's firing the guns -- and at what.

"You just feel like you don't know where bullets might go," she said. "I'm just extremely uncomfortable."

Boyd, Cohn and other neighbors have held meetings and contacted their legislators and councilman for help.

Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said Shiflett's recreational shooting is a public safety issue that needs to be addressed. He said the solution might be to shift the Metropolitan District line or place other restrictions on shooting.

"I think if [Shiflett] followed the common-sense approach, he probably would not be shooting anyway," he said.

But Shiflett said those who don't know much about guns tend to be more nervous around them. He said he thinks people's fears would be eased if they were more educated.

"Even if you have a gun sitting on the table, they're squeamish," he said. "It's almost like having an automobile in the parking lot and having it start on its own. It just doesn't happen."

Shiflett said if the laws are changed, he'll abide by them. But until then, he wants to enjoy his property.

"Maybe guns are [politically incorrect], and people may not like them," he said. "But I'm not breaking the law."

Pub Date: 9/07/99

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