HUNTSVILLE — With all the growth around Huntsville and Pineview Reservoir, with all the hiking, biking, boating and other recreational activity, it's only a matter of time, says Huntsville Mayor Jim Truett.
A hunter or gun enthusiast firing their weapon around the lake, he fears, will end up accidentally shooting someone.
With that in mind, he's pressing for a law banning the use of high-powered rifles around Pineview, aiming to prevent a tragedy before it happens. He's got backing of area residents, he said. But since most of the area around the reservoir lies outside town limits, he's been seeking help from Weber County officials and state lawmakers.
"There's a lot of citizens in town who are very upset waking up Saturday morning and hearing all those gunshots," he said. "It's ridiculous."
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The issue came up at the county commission meeting in Huntsville on Tuesday, held in the town as part of a commission initiative to periodically meet outside the Weber Center in downtown Ogden, where county offices are located. Commissioner Gage Froerer said any remedy would likely have to come from the Utah legislature, while Utah Rep. Steve Waldrip, also in attendance Tuesday, said he plans to bring the issue up during an interim legislative session, maybe later this month.
Reached Wednesday by phone, Waldrip said lawmakers "will have questions" when and if the issue comes before them, as it touches on gun rights and Second Amendment issues. But "common sense" will prevail, he suspects, when officials realize the public safety concerns at the core of the matter.
Truett, like Waldrip, emphasized that it's not about chipping away at gun rights. He's a hunter, Truett said, though he prefers to travel to more remote, mountainous areas to search out game, away from the growing population cluster around Pineview.
"I'm not anti-gun. I'm pro-gun. But there's got to be some responsibility," Truett said. It's not a Second Amendment issue, he said, it's a question of public safety.
He's not so worried about use of shotguns, which have a relatively short range. Rather, the fix, he thinks, is a ban on use of high-powered rifles on the periphery of Pineview, inside the 17-mile road network that encircles the reservoir. State Road 39 runs along the southern edge of Pineview, S.R. 158 runs along the western side, 1900 North runs to the north and 7100 East runs to the east.
High-powered arms can send bullets up to a mile, and he worries about the heightened threat of an inadvertent injury or death given that range and the quantity of people and recreational activities in the area.
'NOT A SAFE AREA'
Truett, speaking Wednesday by phone, a day after the commission meeting, pointed to the death of North Ogden teen Zackary Kempke in arguing for change. The 14-year-old was traveling in a car with family in a remote area of the Monte Cristo Range in Rich County when he was struck and killed by a stray bullet fired by a woman who was target shooting in the area.
The threat of such an incident is even higher around Pineview given the population base, he thinks. He noted the time a man and his son shot and killed a pair of bucks, actually inside the Huntsville town limits. On another occasion, his daughter, a photographer conducting a photo shoot on the edge of the reservoir, cut the session short after hearing rifle fire nearby.
Huntsville restricts gun use within the town limits, a prohibition the city enacted under a provision of state law. Moreover, state laws prohibit firing arms within 600 feet of buildings, across bodies of water and across roadways. But there are no means spelled out in state law to enact restrictions around Pineview.
Waldrip, a Republican from Eden, said the fix might be change at the state level giving individual counties leeway to enact gun use rules within their borders, authority county officials currently lack. That would give the Weber County Commission power to make the change Truett seeks. Alternatively, state lawmakers, Waldrip said, could potentially make the change themselves, instituting a ban on rifle use around Pineview.
Either way, he sympathizes with Truett's mission, noting, like the mayor, Pineview's growing draw as a recreation destination and the increasing number of homes popping up in the area. Legislation, he said, could be crafted during the 2020 legislative session.
"It's just not a safe area for anybody to be discharging anything that can travel any distance," Waldrip said.