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Pneumatic Gun Exemption Creates Stir At City Council

by Valerie Garner

A bill introduced in the Senate by Democrat Roscoe Reynolds of Martinsville created a stir at Roanoke City Council Monday afternoon.

No council member wanted to endorse it but state lawmakers trump local city code every time with Virginia’s Dillon rule being the law of the land. Localities can now only do what Virginia lawmakers tell them they can do.

Roanoke City code prohibits the firing of any pneumatic gun within the city limits. Some BB guns are powerful enough to bring down an animal or even kill a person.

The vote included the affirmative votes of Roanoke City’s Senator John Edwards and Delegate Onzlee Ware. The bill, SB757 was essentially unanimous in both houses. As of July 1st the law trumps city code with or without a vote by City Council.

The bill reads as follows:

Pneumatic gun regulations; exceptions. Requires that any ordinance which prohibits the shooting of pneumatic guns in certain areas shall have, among its exceptions, an exception to allow the firearm to be discharged on private property with permission of the owner when discharge is conducted with reasonable care to prevent a projectile from crossing the bounds of the property.

Council member Court Rosen was the first to say he couldn’t vote to rescind the city’s code. Council members Anita Price and Sherman Lea felt the same.

City Attorney Bill Hackworth was surprised that the bill received traction. Despite the opposition by local governments it passed the General Assembly anyway. Localities now have no choice in the matter.

“In a densely populated city like Roanoke I think avoiding the projectiles from crossing property lines and causing damage is difficult,” said Hackworth. He also questioned the definition of “reasonable care.”

Police Chief Chris Perkins gave council his views saying, “Any pneumatic weapon using compressed air can be extremely dangerous.”  Chief Perkins reminded council of the recent vandalism issues with BB guns.

“It’s going to be very difficult to enforce the crossing of property boundaries,” agreed Perkins. A pneumatic gun would also put law enforcement in a situation of not knowing whether an individual was holding a pneumatic gun or a real gun.

Council members tabled the matter until their next meeting. They agreed to have the city attorney formulate a resolution in opposition to the bill even though their hands are tied. Council will vote on the city code change in conjunction with a resolution condemning the General Assembly’s actions.

In other business, council interviewed seven applicants for one open position on the Roanoke City School Board. Jason Bingham’s resignation is effective June 30th.

Council also agreed to fund $100,000 toward the repair of the Jefferson Center roof. Executive Director, Cyrus Pace, will have to match the gift dollar for dollar. The roof repair is now slightly more than originally anticipated, coming in closer to $225,000.

The Jefferson Center will need to show they have a maintenance plan going forward. “It will be a one-time deal on this and it will not be precedent setting,” said Morrill.


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