Lawmakers look into allowing counties to regulate where firearms can be used

Jun 21 2012 - 11:45am

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A fire burned in the hills above Centerville and in Centerville Canyon the night of Monday, June 11, 2012. (Erin Hooley/Standard-Examiner)
A fire burned in the hills above Centerville and in Centerville Canyon the night of Monday, June 11, 2012. (Erin Hooley/Standard-Examiner)

CENTERVILLE -- Following a Centerville grass fire and other wildfires across Utah caused by gunfire, two local representatives are looking into possibly allowing counties to regulate where firearms can be shot.

Currently, under state law counties are not allowed to create ordinances regulating where firearms are shot, said Civil Chief Deputy Davis County Attorney Bill McGuire.

Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. Susan Poulsen said the county attorney's office decided not file charges against the two men and two women who were shooting .22 rifles and shotguns near Centerville Canyon on June 12. The four also had illegal fireworks in their car, but they had not used them.

Poulsen said the cause of the 13-acre wildfire is still under investigation, but "it is believed the shooting caused the fire."

The fire started outside of city boundaries on private land in the unincorporated area of Davis County.

In 2010, the county passed an ordinance restricting where firearms could be shot, but had to repeal it because the ordinance was illegal, McGuire said.

Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, said he is looking into the issue, not just because of the fire in Centerville but because of the number of fires in recent years started by gunfire throughout the state.

Barrus is the chairman of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.

"We don't want to restrict the ability to carry firearms, but we want it to be safe, especially when the hazardous fire season has started," Barrus said.

Also looking into the issue is Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, who is an advocate of gun rights.

Oda said he is looking at various possibilities, but he does not want to create any law that would cause "renegade counties to stop hunting."

Many of the areas used for hunting are on county lands in the state, Oda said.

"It is the irresponsible shooter," who causes the fires, Oda said.

South Davis Metro Fire Agency Chief Jim Rampton said the Centerville fire "was the 10th fire in the state of Utah that was started with gunfire." Rampton said he is not advocating where, when and how someone shoots, but "in extreme conditions like this, when the fire danger is high, we need to have control on what we are doing."

Rampton said it is not the responsible gun owner who causes the wildfires, but those who "are not so responsible."

The June 12 fire was not the first time a fire has occurred in that area, officials said.

Centerville Police Lt. Paul Child said residents frequently complain about firearms being shot in the area. But because it is in the county's unincorporated area police tell residents it not illlegal to shoot guns there.

Beyond the fire danger, Child said, he is also concerned for the people who use the area for outdoor recreation, such as hiking and biking.

Centerville City Council brought up the issue at its meeting Tuesday, said City Manager Steve Thacker.

In the city's foothills management plan "there is a mention of the possibility of annexing that area someday," Thacker said.

But city officials do not want to annex the area just so they can regulate shooting.

Thacker said he, along with the mayor and the city's community development director, plan to meet and evaluate the pros and cons of annexing the area.

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