HANCOCK COUNTY — Hunting and recreational shooting are popular pastimes in Indiana, with over 44% of adults owning guns, according to a RAND Corporation study this year. In Hancock County, about 15,000 residents have active gun licenses.

A possible change in a Hancock County ordinance would make it easier to fire one in your own backyard.

At the request of the Hancock County Commissioners, the county’s plan commission will consider a change to an ordinance that forbids shooting a firearm within 300 feet of any residence, unless at a location that is classified as a shooting range. The change would allow residents to shoot anywhere on their own property, as long as they remain at least 300 away from other residences.

The issue will be discussed at the plan commission’s meeting on Tuesday, July 28. A public hearing will allow residents the chance to voice their opinions on the issue. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex

Brad Armstrong, a county commissioner and member of the plan commission, said the intent of the change is to give people more freedom on their own property, allowing them to shoot for recreation or hunting closer to their homes if they so choose.

“The thing is to try and have a logical distinction between shooting on your own and a lot of shooting that’s disruptive to their neighbors,” he said.

Armstrong said the county commissioners have heard about disputes between neighbors over personal firearm use and reviewed the current ordinance to determine what exactly was allowed.

“It brought to light a strict interpretation of this that kind of prohibited some of the activities that we felt like it shouldn’t,” he said.

Commissioner John Jessup agreed, saying county residents who want to shoot on their own property and are not endangering anyone should be able to do so.

“The ordinance as it’s written is over-restrictive of people’s personal, private property rights,” he said. “…You can make that decision yourself, whether you want to fire a gun on your own property.”

Some places in Hancock County have more restrictive rules. In Greenfield, for example, both recreational shooting and archery are allowed only at ranges specifically for that purpose.

Any rule change contemplated by the county would apply only to the unincorporated areas of Hancock County.

Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Plan Commission, said he and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department both receive complaints from county residents about their neighbors’ use of firearms. When Dale has reason to believe the 300-foot rule is being violated, he issues a notice to the property owner of the ordinance violation.

If a property owner wants to continue shooting closer to their residence, they are permitted to seek a “special exception,” in which they need to go before the plan commission and ask to have their property classified as a shooting range. Neighbors who object can also appear at a public hearing on the issue to express their opinions.

Dale said neighbors can usually work out such disputes among themselves, but sometimes it becomes necessary for the county government to intervene.

“Neighbors should talk to each other and see if they can reach a mutually agreeable position,” Dale said.

Hancock County Sheriff Brad Burkhart said he also receives complaints about people shooting on their own property, and the 300-foot rule makes the current ordinance difficult to enforce.

“(The rule) doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Burkhart said.

Changing it, he said, might help property owners and their neighbors get a better understanding of what is allowed, and eventually cut down on complaints.

Whatever the ordinance is, Burkhart added, those shooting recreationally should remember to practice gun safety and can still be held accountable for endangering others.

“If you’re going to shoot from your residence, you still need to maintain a proper backstop,” he said.

If the plan commission approves the change, the county commissioners will have the final say.

Whether people are opposed to or in favor of the change, Dale said, they should come to the public hearing on Tuesday and make their voices heard.

“My thing is to always try to encourage public input,” he said.
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