Newest Howard County hunting bill misses the target - by a long shot


January 04, 2009|By Candy Thomson | Candy Thomson,

The Howard County Council will be proposing its first bill of the new year tomorrow, and, wheeew, it's a stinker.

On the surface, CB1-2009 seems like a rational response to an incident last month, when a hunter who should have known better opened fire on a deer and instead shot out the window of a day-care center 277 yards away. The state safety buffer zone is 150 yards, and this proposal would double that distance.

But before everyone starts congratulating each other, let me rain on the parade by saying, "This is a knee-jerk, badly worded, sorry excuse for a solution that won't make a single person any safer."

Others will no doubt say the same thing in far more eloquent terms, but I wanted to be the first.

Here's the bottom line: As written, it's unenforceable.

You see, in addition to arbitrarily doubling the safety zone (more about that later), the proposal also would prohibit anyone from firing a gun "in the direction of any dwelling, house, residence or other building or camp designed for occupation by human beings which is within the maximum range of the gun being discharged."

Verbosity and grammatical error aside, there's the little matter of the last seven words. I'll repeat them: "maximum range of the gun being discharged."

Maximum range is as unknowable as the number of bubbles in a Coke.

What size Coke? Cold or warm? Diet or regular?

It's the same thing with shotguns, a fact that apparently escaped the Howard County lawyer who drafted the bill.

For the sake of argument, let's use state hunting law as a foundation. Deer may be legally killed in Howard County with 10-, 12-, 16- and 20-gauge shotguns. Those guns come with lots of standard and custom barrel configurations that take at least four types of ammunition. They can be equipped with a scope or open sights.

A Howard County friend of mine who does math a whole lot better than I do came up with 192 combinations of legal deer gun.

But wait, there's more. What's the temperature? The wind? The humidity? Is the hunter on elevated ground or in a gully? How old is the gun?

You want to know the maximum range of a shotgun? First, tell me exactly how many bubbles are in my Coke.

(For perspective: Two honest-to-goodness scientists trying to determine the number of bubbles in a full bottle of champagne came up with two answers, 49 million bubbles per bottle and 250 million bubbles in a bottle.)

I feel sorry for the police officer who has to explain to a district court judge the maximum range of the gun used by the first hunter charged under this ridiculous law. If I'm the National Rifle Association, I take this case for the publicity.

As for doubling the safety buffer, that's a false sense of security. Remember, the hunter charged with unsafe practices was just 23 yards shy of the new and improved buffer. If he had been in a tree stand instead of standing on the ground or had a different gun, who's to say his slug couldn't have gone the distance?

Speaking of tree stands, the bill shrinks the 300-yard buffer to the original 150-yard buffer if the hunter is "shooting downward" from a tree stand that is a minimum of 10 feet off the ground, or is (I presume) a waterfowler shooting a shotgun loaded with shot.

Unfortunately, the bill doesn't stop there. It also extends the prohibition on hunting on less than 10 acres from the Metropolitan District - roughly the eastern half of the county - to the entire county.

If this passes, a police officer will have to be equipped with a range finder to size up yardage, a tape measure to check tree stands and property maps to ensure the size of a hunting parcel exceeds 10 acres. That's not a police officer, that's a Re/Max agent.

The bill, being introduced at the request of County Executive Ken Ulman, is co-sponsored by four of five council members. A hearing is tentatively set for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 at the Board of Education board room on Route 108, Ellicott City.

I don't know why the council is rushing to pass such a ghastly piece of claptrap. With deer season ending Jan. 31 and resuming in mid-September, there's plenty of time to get it right.

And there's a simple fix. Adjust the boundaries of the Howard County Metropolitan District to reflect the expanding suburban population or establish a firearms ordinance zone. Caught outside with a gun inside the zone, you're busted.

Last summer, a survey by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at UMBC showed that about 58 percent of county residents believe there are too many deer, half of those polled said they had either been involved in a collision with a deer or have a relative or friend who had been in the past five years, and half said they had bushes or crops damaged by deer.

If you think there are too many deer now, just wait a year or two, gang, when no one will hunt in Howard County because it's not worth the trouble.

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