Repeal of gun law triggers heat in Vandemere
VANDEMERE – Tempers flared Monday night over a vote two months ago, repealing a town law that had been on the books for decades.
The ordinance, originally adopted in 1980, was remarkably brief: That no firearms shall be discharged in the legal town limits of Vandemere, and signed by then Town Mayor Billy W. Harris.
Although brevity is the soul of wit, town laws intended to prohibit some type of otherwise legal activity are seldom meant to be funny, and are rarely brief, according to Vandemere town commissioner Steve Lacy, who is also a veteran attorney.
Lacy cited the law’s lack of exemptions — for say, self-defense, duck hunting, and law enforcement — as being a fatal flaw. In fact, Lacy noted such a law “needs to be specific enough to describe, but not so vague that it cannot be enforced.”
Translated that means more words for a new law, if town citizens really want to regulate wanton shooting.
And, according to Sherry Howlett – wife of town commissioner Dave Howlett – that is exactly what the town should be doing. During a contentious, but mostly cordial debate of the issue, she seemed to speak for many in the community.
“We are in a no man’s land right now, with no law in effect,” she said. “What are people supposed to do if somebody starts shooting birds off the phone line, and bullets are falling on my house?”
Dave Howlett, the only commissioner to oppose the law’s repeal in October, suggested that even a law with no teeth is better than no law at all.
“I do feel safer,” he said, “if we have this type of ordinance on the books. It represents a deterrent, regardless of whether it is enforceable or not.”
Lacy, charged by his colleagues on the board to oversee matters relating to ‘Regulations & Compliance,’ countered by saying “there are pages and pages of the town code that I want to repeal. This gun ordinance was enacted in 1980 but it has been prosecuted zero times.” He later added: “I’m supposed to be giving my advice to the board on that particular topic, but what I’ve shared has been completely misunderstood, misconstrued, and repeated in a form that is not correct.”
At the 40-minute mark, compromise reared its lovely head when Lacy suggested “we can make an enforceable ordinance.” And, in response to a question, Lacy said “it might cost a couple of thousand dollars.”
That quickly prompted a motion from Howlett, seconded by Commissioner Carolyn Jones, that the town should ask its for-hire attorney, Ben Hollowell of Bayboro, to present various options for some type of new law meant to prevent – with exemptions – the discharge of firearms inside the town limits.
After the town board approved Howlett’s measure by unanimous vote, Mayor Judy Thaanum put the issue to bed, at least for the interim:
“We’re doing the best we can,” she said, “but we don’t have much money.”
As is the case with all of the town commissioners, Lacy has been charged with management of a particular “department” of town governance. His expertise helps when tackling matters having to do with “Regulations and Compliance.”