Council says no to archers

The City Council last week declined to take action on a proposal to allow archers to practice shooting on private property within the city limits.

City Attorney Robert Snyder produced a copy of Albany’s ordinance, which allows the use of bow and arrow on private property with the permission of the property owner.

The Wapiti Bowmen, a Linn County archery club with members in Sweet Home, requested last month that the City Council adopt an ordinance similar to Albany’s. Lebanon has already adopted a similar ordinance, and Brownsville has been considering the change.

Club President Craig Starr argued that archers must maintain their skills by shooting frequently. They don’t require long ranges, just enough to let them practice and maintain their technique. He told the council that archery proficiency drops off without it €“ to a much larger degree than not practicing with a firearm

The practice is prohibited under current ordinance. Under the proposed ordinance, it would be permitted as long as the archery is undertaken safely and arrows do not cross a property line without permission. Failing to follow both requirements would constitute a violation of the ordinance. In some conditions, it also would be a class C felony under state law.

During the council’s regular meeting on June 8, Mayor Craig Fentiman said he has been researching archery on-line and observed that bowmen take their sport seriously.

He supported the idea, he said. He likened it to alcohol use.

“As long as it’s responsibly done, everything works fine,” Fentiman said. The same thing applies if a bowman has a good backdrop and practices safely.

And like alcohol and cars, a few may drink too much and drive irresponsibly, he said. “I just want to make sure we can respond if someone is acting irresponsibly.”

John Fassler, who is a member of the District 55 School Board, told the council he completely opposed the proposal.

“When I read this really quickly, I was going through and saying this is as ambiguous as you can get,” Fassler said. “I can see just too many issues. It’s illegal to do, and that’s final, unless it’s on a range €“ that’s fine.”

Starr argued the opposite, that if someone keeps an arrow confined to their own property, it’s not a public safety issue €“ the duty to public safety is met.

“Clearly, there are situations where people may not be able to shoot safely on their own property,” he said. That implies the converse, that some properties are suited to safe archery, with no risk to public safety.

Where that’s the case, it should be an individual decision, he said.

“To be honest we’re kind of split on the issue,” said Councilor Ron Rodgers. At first, he thought why not, but then he thought it would be like giving a green light to non-hunters and inexperienced bowmen to shoot €“ then “oops, I killed my neighbor kid.”

“We allow people to drink,” Fentiman said. “They get drunk and get into vehicles and drive, and they kill people all the time, more so than arrows.”

They have a right to get into their vehicles, he said. If they drive, if they crash, then they are punished.

“Why don’t we just prohibit people from drinking alcohol?” Fentiman asked.

“All it takes a projectile that’s going to come across the fence,” said Councilor Scott McKee Jr. “If my dog or kid is on the other side of the fence, it’s all over.”

He opposed changing the ordinance.

If his neighbor were shooting a bow, Rodgers said, “my kids aren’t going to be in the backyard no matter how good the backstop is.”

Councilors discussed special requirements, such as a minimum lot size, but councilors and staff members were concerned about possible liability issues, especially if the city implemented an approval process.

Several councilors were undecided, including Greg Mahler, Laure Fowler and Eric Markell.

With so much uncertainty, the ordinance may be adjusted and processes developed to satisfy some councilors, but it may not be enough to gain approval. Fentiman suggested that the council take no action. The councilors agreed by consensus.

“I do have a lot of problem with legislating people’s behavior on their own property,” Fentiman said. “But with something this deadly or dangerous, I guess I can go along with it.”

Since 2005, Sweet Home police had six reports regarding bows and arrows. Four of them were incidents where someone was shooting a bow. Two were reports of found arrows.

The reports are not necessarily all of them, but it could be, said Police Chief Bob Burford. It is difficult to search the Police Department database for archery incidents because they are listed under a variety of incident types.

“I’m not real happy with it, but I understand their concerns,” said Mack Tuttle, a Sweet Home resident who asked the council to change the ordinance.

He would be open to restrictions, and he believes there should be consequences for violating the ordinance, he said. His son started into archery, so he took him to practice against a hillside. He was among the six incidents mentioned by the police chief, and he stopped when the officer informed him of the ordinance prohibiting archery within the city limits.

He joined the Wapiti Bowman and a range as a result. With the price, he decided to get back into archery as well.

“There’s safe ways to do it, but I understand their concerns,” he said. “I don’t understand their consensus that they can’t license and control it €“ that’s why we pay taxes.

“If it leaves the lot, someone needs to be reprimanded or fined.”