COLUMBIA TWP. — People packed the Columbia Township Hall on Monday to talk about whether the state can, or even should, give townships the authority to regulate firing guns on private property.
The meeting was organized by state Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, after residents in both Eaton and Columbia townships recently voiced concerns about irresponsible shooters hitting homes. Some homes have been hit with multiple bullets that went through walls and missed people inside by feet.
Township trustees were present, as were Lorain County Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Innes and state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, who left the forum early.
Unlike municipalities, townships can’t dictate whether lots must be a certain size to shoot, whether a certain backstop must be used when target shooting or whether to ban shooting in certain areas altogether.
A resident can fire any type of weapon they choose on private property, and state law suggests National Rifle Association guidelines for backstops, although backstops aren’t legally required to target shoot.
Ohio is one of six states with a law that refers to the NRA when it comes to backstops. Backstops in Ohio’s law are only referenced in terms of shooting ranges and not for shooting by residents on private property.
Stein said one problem with focusing on backstops is that not everyone firing a gun in a township is doing so for target practice. Some are hunting or shooting skeet, he said, which has nothing to do with a backstop.
“You can’t build a backstop for every varmint or animal you want to shoot,” Stein said. “It lies with the person to be responsible and know what direction they are shooting and if there are houses in that direction.”
However, Lorain County sheriff’s Capt. Rick Thomas said the bulk of complaints about shooting received involve target shooting where a person has “a form of a backstop or an improper backstop.” Capt. Don Barker added that the department mostly runs into people who are target shooting with a backstop that won’t stop the round they are shooting.
Deputies also have difficulty charging people criminally when it comes to negligent or reckless shooting. Barker said state law could be tweaked to give the law, which only deals with whether a person knowingly hit a home, more bite.
“Right now, we’re very limited with what we can charge by the Ohio Revised Code when it comes to shooting,” Barker said. “If you knowingly shoot into a house, it is covered by the (law). But if it is not knowingly it is not covered.”
Eaton Township resident Elizabeth Rattay told Stein that lawmakers should do something to help rather than just paying residents lip service. Rattay, a gun owner and member of the NRA, lives on Dye Road, and both of her neighbors’ homes have been hit with bullets.
Rattay said there are times she has to tell her children to get inside or go to the basement because she hears intense gunfire and it’s not possible to know whether more bullets will hit homes.
Rattay said at one time she would shoot on her neighbor’s property, but then she started thinking about the homes nearby. Apparently common sense isn’t so common these days, she said.
“You’re an educated man,” Rattay told Stein. “I know you can come up with wording that will be constitutional and safe.”
But longtime Eaton Township resident Harry Walker, who remembers when rural schools had rifle competitions, said he believes the main issue is a lack of education, inexperienced shooters and too many newcomers who want too many government regulations.
“We suddenly have an influx of people that have no idea what it’s like to live in a township,” he said. “They want to change our way of living, and that’s not the way it’s going to be.”
Not all newcomers want changes when it comes to gun laws. Columbia Township resident Tony Manning, who said he moved to the area a few weeks ago, told Stein to keep the state out of the townships.
“The primary reason I moved here is for more freedom,” Manning said. “I love hearing gunshots. I’ve got a neighbor in the back and one Sunday they cranked of 500 to 1,000 rounds, and I was so proud to be an American. I absolutely love it.”
But Columbia Township resident Kathy Kortan, who lives in a development where two homes have been hit, said she feels that just as people have a right to own and shoot guns, others have a right to feel safe in their homes.
“All of the elected officials, I just ask you to think about how you’ll feel when the call is not that I’m annoyed but I’m dead,” Kortan said.
Lisa Zver, an Olmsted Township trustee, said the problem of irresponsible shooting in townships spreads across the county and state.
Zver said Olmsted Township is developing fast, is no longer rural, and she wonders if there should be density requirements to shoot. People shoot in populated areas, she said, or at targets facing the Ohio Turnpike.
“I want my right to own my gun, but I’m not going to shoot it in a densely populated area,” she said. “That to me is the height of irresponsibility. I cannot imagine sitting in my home, having it shot up and being that close to being killed.”
A resident who lives on South Boone Road said he’s recently given the Sheriff’s Office an address where people are suspected of shooting at tannerite targets. The kits are sold and require mixing of two explosives, which generally only explode when hit by a bullet, and people sometimes use the mixture to shoot at old appliances or other large targets.
The two explosives can legally be sold separately, deputies said, but mixing the explosives is a felony.
The resident said recent explosions have shook his home. Others present said the windows of some homes have busted out after such explosions.
Thomas said the use of tannerite is illegal and if caught using it, people will be arrested.
“If we catch anyone using tannerite, and we can show they’re doing it, we’re going to arrest them,” Thomas said. “It’s illegal, flat out, no ifs, ands or buts. It’s not target shooting, it’s causing mayhem.”