‘Killing a copperhead with a hoe!’

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Critic explains exasperation over town vote!

By Jim Barton | Guest Commentary

Jim Barton

ORIENTAL — Without any discussion and ignoring public safety concerns and comments raised at the Town Board meeting — as well as the recommendation for further study regarding firearms discharge policy by one member — the Town Commissioners have reaffirmed their authorization for the unrestricted use of .22 caliber firearms for ‘non life- threatening pest control on personal property.’


I want to thank you and the Town Manager for the enlightening clarifications during the Nov. 8th Town Board meeting. Well, let’s be real. It was mainly the Town Manager! Most of you sat stone-faced during the public comments section. There was a buzz later amongst Town citizens present — wondering why they should provide comments at all on any subject, since they seem to have no affect on public policy.


With the exception of Town Commissioner Barb Venturi, it was clear you all had your minds made up on the fate of Ordinance H. You did not consider nor respond to any of the concerns registered by the public on the firearms portion of Ordinance H – concerns I first raised in communication to the Town. You also provided little insight on the Growth Management Ordinance changes. You went straight to vote.

There was some very real concern expressed by the public. It sure looks like you are simply checking the block to allow public comment because you are required to do so rather than listening to those who bother to attend these public hearings. So here we are.

Against the recommendation to remove Ordinance H Article II Section 6 (a) (3) which restricts use to a .22 caliber firearm or a shotgun (Number 8 shot lead or less) to control pests — you voted to leave that section in with no explanation whatsoever by the Town Board as to why?

To quote the Town Manager, it was for reasons of public safety, which is totally mind boggling!!?? Particularly, if one considers how ludicrous the ordinance provision is in the first place. No, you see I believe (as do most of the most casual observers) it was for another reason, which you bought into without doing the independent research yourselves.

The issue, of course, is to steadfastly maintain Town Authority to enact, no matter how ridiculous, lacking substantiation or how needless is the provision.

You see, through her statements, the Town Manager maintains that Oriental citizens may possess and discharge any legal firearm regardless of caliber for self-defense of life and property against humans and animals posing such threat, even such animals that might be otherwise referred to as pests.

That is a no-brainer and I agree with that. Obviously, it is a Federal and State right and self-defense is fundamental . Local Ordinance H also supports that right in Section 3 (a). That is not disputed nor is the municipality’s right to control discharge. The Town Manager claims, supposedly with “exhaustive legal review” that the Town of Oriental has the right under State law to go beyond simple discharge control, and restrict caliber and size shot!

As I stated in my comments to you, that is contestable and likely it will be challenged in the near future. No case law presented to date supports the Town Manager and Town Counsel argument. I cannot think of a single judge in this area who would agree with the Town position based on what has been presented. It also defies the test of common sense.

I maintain Section (a) (3) is moot. But let us, as I said last night, set aside the issue of Town authority on which the Town Manager has apparently been stuck like the needle on an old time record. The caliber and shot is really not the issue at all, except that she also maintains and you agree that using the specified caliber and shot poses less threat to citizens.

I disagree and maintain it does the opposite. Why?

Given the range and potential firepower of the legal .22 caliber semi-automatic firearms (examples I showed on Nov. 8) these firearms pose a greater risk to public safety than a higher power firearm used at close range. Heck, so does a regular .22 caliber handgun or long gun. Also, rather than being restrictive at all, through your vote, you have reaffirmed to the townspeople a unique permissible firearm use.

That being: The permissible use of such firearms and the ability of citizens to define for themselves what is actually a pest!! There is no definition in the ordinance. As one member of the audience pointed out (and I agree), a pest could even be an unleashed neighbor’s dog. It is up to the citizen to decide it seems. But, while perhaps annoying because it might require purchasing firearms they do not own, you have specified permissible firearms for controlling them, not for threat to life and property but indiscriminate pest control.

I do not own a .22 caliber firearm of any sort. Those who drafted the provision 30 years ago (and buried it under the Nuisance Ordinance) likely had in mind a .22 caliber pistol. But by law, I may purchase an AR-15 or similar semi-automatic firearm. Providing it is .22 caliber or less, the 30 round magazine capacity being inconsequential, I am permitted by Ordinance to sit on my back deck inside Town of Oriental limits with loaded firearm in hand, to guard against any and all animals I define as pests.

These may include but are not limited to, the aforementioned unleashed neighbor’s dog Mugsy digging in my flower bed, squirrels digging up my lawn, moles and voles doing the same, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, rats, groundhogs, raccoon, opossum, foxes and coyotes whether rabid or not, as well as foraging rabbits, a flock of crows in my backyard trees and the occasional deer eating my ornamentals.

There might be an occasional starling flock or two for which I may also use leaded number 8 shot or less (regardless of its ban for waterfowl use since 1987.) And notwithstanding my proximity to the creek with the environmental consequences it may carry and preference to use larger tungsten or steel birdshot shot, I will accede to your direction and buy lead even if some of it falls into the creek while shooting pests.

Does any of the above sound to you as though it might somehow be a greater potential threat to public safety than the one expressed by the Town Manager? You obviously do not. By your 4-1 vote you have made your choice to continue with this policy. I suppose I should thank you for granting this right to be a member of the animal control posse. After all, Pamlico County has only one Animal Control officer. I would rather see the Ordinance permit firearm discharge (regardless of caliber) for threats to life and property and not indiscriminate use. That is what I suggested in the first place. That is what I recommended on Nov. 8. And that is what you rejected without comment.

There is no need whatsoever to permit indiscriminate use of firearms, regardless of caliber to control pests because in most cases we do not use them anyway. Just today I killed a copperhead with a hoe. It was reactive and instinctive even though I generally leave them alone. No thoughts were required as it fell from my opening garage door past my head to just in front of my feet.

Maybe I should have used a 9mm 58 pellet shot shell instead to test the enforcement of the Ordinance provision. Perhaps someday soon someone will.

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