A group of property owners in the Graham area can now legally shoot guns and hunt on their land, and soon more landowners may be allowed to do the same.
The Pierce County Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to remove about 600 acres from a no-shooting zone that prohibits the discharge of firearms on private property.
The land was part of a patchwork of about 160 zones that cover roughly 243 square miles countywide, county senior planner Chad Williams said. That excludes the restricted areas in Mount Rainier National Park, he noted.
The affected land joins a collection of parcels, totaling about 148 acres, where the same restrictions were lifted last year.
The county is exploring removal of several other no-shooting zones as part of an ongoing effort to reverse what some people say were overzealous restrictions approved 13 years ago. The other proposals include a recommendation from the independent Firearms Advisory Commission to remove 525 acres, also in the Graham area.
At a County Council meeting in Eatonville Tuesday, council members listened to passionate testimony, mostly from supporters of lifting the shooting prohibition.
Many speakers stressed that it’s unnecessary to prohibit gunfire on private property in largely rural areas.
Among them was Mike Boone. Boone’s 40-acre property was included in the land removed from the no-shooting zone in June 2014, just months after he learned of the restrictions from a sheriff’s deputy.
Before then, Boone had no idea that he couldn’t shoot on his land. That was also the case for many of his neighbors, he said Tuesday.
“I support taking this (restriction) out so neighbors can enjoy the same benefits that we do,” Boone said.
Janet Stankatis said she was previously unaware of the shooting restrictions on her Graham property. The mother of four said her family purchased their rural land to enjoy outdoor activities such as hunting.
“We want to teach our son how to shoot safely,” she said.
Tuesday’s discussion centered on an ordinance that dates to 2002. It was meant to eliminate shooting where there’s a reasonable likelihood that humans, animals or property would be jeopardized, primarily in densely populated areas or spots likely to experience higher density in the future.
Williams, the county’s senior planner, said at the time the County Council worked with sheriff’s department and school district officials to draft the expanded prohibition, covering an additional 43 square miles.
It doesn’t appear that they consulted planning staff or any commissions at the time of adoption, he said. The Firearms Advisory Commission was established in 2004.
As a result, Williams said, officials took an overly cautious approach in anticipating potential growth in the rural areas included in the shooting ban.
“These areas are not urban or rapidly urbanizing as the 2002 ordinance states,” he said. “I think they went way overboard.”
A couple of residents spoke against lifting the restrictions, mainly due to concerns about the area’s proximity to schools.
Williams said one school, Kapowsin Elementary, is located about a quarter of a mile from the land where the shooting restrictions were lifted.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Democratic Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg said she was skeptical about eliminating the shooting restrictions.
“There’s a reason that this zone was set up initially,” Ladenburg said. “We need to have a justification for removing it from the law.”
She voted against the proposal, after an attempt to table it for further research failed.
Councilman Derek Young, a fellow Democrat, voted in favor of lifting the shooting restrictions.
He wanted the council to take more time to gain clarity on some details, such as how likely it is the area will remain rural. Still, he said removing the land from the no-shooting zone seemed reasonable.
“In a rural area, this is an activity you expect,” Young said.