COLUMBIA TOWNSHIP — Until residents’ complaints about outdoor shooting in the township and potential litigation is resolved, off-duty Lorain County sheriff’s deputies won’t be permitted to take part in target practice there, administrators recently decided.
In an April 12 memo written and signed by sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Ashdown, all Lorain County sheriff’s deputies are forbidden “effective immediately” from shooting at any private outdoor ranges in Columbia Township.
“One of the duties of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office is to provide for the public peace,” Ashdown wrote in the memo. “At the center of that debate many times are private shooting ranges. This happens to be the case in Columbia Township, where there have been several complaints involving employees at these locations.”
Complaints following an April 6-7 event on private property in the township led to the decision, Ashdown wrote in the memo.
“The Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office has been in contact with the property owner about the complaints, and there may be civil litigations to address the matter,” Ashdown wrote, adding that the order “applies to any other outdoor ranges within Columbia Township.”
Additionally, dispatchers have apparently “informed complainants on several occasions that the Sheriff’s Office is shooting, which is not the case. It has resulted in numerous calls voicing the (community’s) disappointment in being a part of these activities,” Ashdown wrote.
Ashdown told The Chronicle-Telegram on Wednesday that there is controversy surrounding private shooting ranges in Columbia Township, including their hours of operation.
“Being that we are the keepers of the peace out there, we figured it was best to limit our activities shooting out there,” he said.
Ashdown said the Sheriff’s Office has received numerous shooting complaints, but unless a crime is committed it’s up to those with a stake in the matter to hammer out an agreement to everyone’s satisfaction.
“There have been several meetings out there to try to explain to the residents there’s really no legal violation” in target shooting on private property, he said. “You can shoot from dawn to dusk as much as you want on your own private range, and we thought it would be in poor taste to be party to those complaints until we’ve got some resolution between the neighbors.”
Ashdown said deputies have been afforded the opportunity to use “very nice property to train and learn and practice” in Columbia Township but want to do it without causing grief to residents. Rumors the sheriff’s SWAT team was out practicing at a private range in Columbia Township are unfounded, he said, because the tactical team has its own range elsewhere.
“It’s always been a touchy subject,” he said. “You have those folks who want to move out there who want to shoot and ride their ATVs, and the other factions who want to live in peace and ride their horses.”
The way Ohio law is written, there’s not much township officials can do to stop private property owners from using their land for target practice. Trustee Mike Musto said the township has fielded a number of complaints of shooting over the years, but no more this year than in past years.
“It’s the same amount,” he said Wednesday. “The hits just keep coming. We’ve contacted our attorneys, talked to the sheriff, everything, but it still stands — there’s not much we can do.”
The only recent complaint Musto said he could recall was an event during which there was automatic and semiautomatic gunfire ringing out 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. He said in that situation, he was told the sheriff’s office fielded four shooting complaints at 9 p.m.
And while residents “didn’t appreciate 15 hours of shooting automatic weapons,” Musto said, it is completely legal.
All that is required for outdoor target practice in Ohio townships is a proper backstop such an earthen berm to prevent stray rounds from leaving the property. Shooters also must have the property owner’s permission, and may not shoot in the vicinity of an inhabited dwelling, a church, school or cemetery. The law also forbids shooting from, or over, a public road.
Musto said townships don’t have much more recourse than ensuring current laws are followed.
“This has been beaten to death,” he said. “We keep trying to get some resolve on it, but it is resolved. The law’s the law and we follow the law, and that’s all we can do.”