By DOUG NURSEThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 03/07/07
Vince Pisano was jolted awake in November by a gunshot blast that sounded like it was just outside the window of his upscale suburban Milton home."I couldn't believe someone would be shooting near my home," Pisano said. "It was someone bird hunting. There's a lake 600 feet from my home. There's a deer stand 50 feet from my property line. I was shocked to learn it's legal. It's rural here, but it's not wide open."
Milton, which fancies itself as a pastoral retreat amid metro Atlanta, is facing a clash between public safety and America's love affair with firearms.
Most cities outlaw firing guns within their city limits except to protect life or property or both, but Milton's ordinances thus far are silent, except to ban the weapons from parks. State law prohibits firearms for deer hunting in Fulton County, and the use of guns in public areas, such as churches and schools.The gun issue came up briefly in a City Council discussion of a proposed noise ordinance, but no decision was made.
"I don't know enough about it to really have an opinion," said Mayor Joe Lockwood. "Where do you draw the line? If you're so many acres, it's OK; if you're so many, it's not?"Councilwoman Tina D'Aversa Williams said that while she's sympathetic to people worried about guns going off near their homes, she sees both sides of the issue and knows this new city will soon have to take up the issue.
"I don't want them going off around my kids either," she said. "We know we're going to have to address it. Half the people are in support of having the opportunity to bear arms, and half we say we're concerned."
It's no wonder the City Council isn't eager to take on the issue.
In 2005, a bow hunter mortally wounded a deer in Roswell, which staggered into a subdivision and died. Public dismay that people were hunting in woods where kids play prompted that city to address bow hunting. At the same time, the council considered tightening its gun ordinance to be in line with state law. The National Rifle Association jumped in, and the City Council was inundated with letters, calls and e-mails from around the country from gun rights supporters. Ultimately, the city backed off changing its gun ordinance, but passed a law regulating bow hunting in the city limits.
John Bowers, assistant chief of game management for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, said state law prohibits cities from banning hunting, but it allows cities to prohibit shooting for public safety reasons.Bowers said if Milton takes on the issue, it should consider allowing deer hunting with bows.
"There's two ways to control a deer population," he said. "You can do it through responsible hunting or you can do it by hitting them with SUVs."Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said it's common for cities to adopt laws prohibiting shooting."When it's very rural, you can shoot and you don't have to worry about hitting anything," Rotondo said. "But when you start shooting and bullets are flying over roadways and houses, that's a concern."
On Feb. 2, a Newton County woman in the upstairs bedroom of a house was killed when she was struck by a stray bullet fired by men target-practicing about 150 yards away. Two men have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony.
Incorporated last December, Milton is half-developed, but most of its 20,000 residents live in suburbs, many of which are surrounded by raw land. Much of the undeveloped property is in horse farms, country clubs, and mansions with expansive grounds.Many of the old-timers and longtime hunters concede the days of stalking deer with the family rifle are long gone.
Ralph Rucker, 67, grew up hunting and fishing in the Crabapple area of Milton.
"I used to shoot rabbits, squirrels, quail, but the last time I hunted in Milton was 20 years ago," he said. "A .22[-caliber bullet] will go a mile, and chances are it's going to hit something. I don't like to say it, but no one needs to be hunting in Milton."
But others draw the line at giving up hunting and shooting altogether.
Steve Beecham, 47, who has lived in Milton since 1971, said shooting with rifles should be outlawed, but some provision needs to be made for pistols, small-bore shotguns, and bows.
"I'm a hunter but there are certain areas you don't need to fire a gun," he said. "It depends on how populated it is."
That's not good enough for Pat Martin, 72, who lives off Providence Road in south Milton.
She said there's a lake and creeks near her home and she gets nervous when her grandchildren visit for fear someone will be out there shooting. She said hunters frequent the lake and land behind her house.
"There are woods all around and the kids like to walk around in the woods," she said. "I don't feel like they're safe. There are other places to hunt."