December 2004

Short Shots: 12/04

Sporting Estate Fights Zoning Law That Has Closed Its Range
Last year, when Orion Sporting Group applied for a conditional use permit to re-open its established shotgun sports business on a new 450-acre rural tract of land adjacent to the group’s licensed hunting preserve, little did the company know it was in for a year-long legal battle.

Orion is an International Sporting Estate situated on 450 acres alongside the picturesque James River in Virginia. The Orion Estate is composed of a licensed hunting preserve, sporting grounds including a multi-disciplined shotgun sports center, event grounds and corporate training facility in the piedmont of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The additional land Orion hoped to add would have been a place for sportsmen and women to safely shoot shotguns at clay pigeons and ZZ-Birds that simulate the flight paths of various game birds, game animals and various fowl. Even though the facility would have complied with the existing noise ordinance, the county didn’t grant the permit Orion sought.

Orion filed suit, claiming that the denial violates the right to hunt. Hunting requires instruction in safety and proficiency. Sporting clays is the ideal learning tool for bird hunting. Such training minimizes chances of firearms accidents and, by teaching how to shoot clay pigeons and other targets at different distances and angles effectively, promotes the humane harvesting of game birds.

“In short, it’s the very kind of hunter education and training that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries promotes,” said Steve Raynor of Orion’s legal team. “The county’s refusal, the lawsuit also maintains, seeks to do an end run around Virginia state law, which restricts county authority to regulate hunting and firearm discharge to residential areas only.”

The county sought dismissal of the suit, arguing that corporations have no right to hunt and that sporting clays is not hunting.

“In other words, you can exercise what the Virginia Constitution calls your ‘right to hunt,’ but only if a local government bureaucrat gives you permission,” said James Slaughter, Orion Estate’s General Manager. “That’s just not right, and Orion should be protected from these blatantly selective attacks on our hunting and shooting business.”

“Moreover, simulated hunting makes one proficient at actual hunting. No responsible person, especially any government officials wants untrained and inexperienced ‘hunters’ in the woods who can’t shoot accurately and handle firearms safely,” said Stephen Halbrook, Orion’s lead co-counsel.

Meanwhile, the Nelson County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have broadened their anti-hunter policies, ordering the closure of the Bucks Only Hunt Club shooting range, which had existed for years. Then County Officials further proposed implementing a new comprehensive zoning plan that would require hunt clubs that have existed for decades in this very rural community to obtain special permits.

On September 21, hundreds of hunters in blaze-orange caps appeared at a public hearing to oppose Nelson County’s proposed comprehensive zoning plan. They cheered the National Rifle Association spokesman and many others who spoke in support of protecting Virginia’s hunting traditions.

On October 4, 2004, Circuit Judge Michael Gamble dismissed Orion’s zoning appeal, yet further held that Orion’s complaint sufficiently alleged violation of the constitutional right to hunt and for their case to go to trial.

According to Gamble’s eight-page decision, the complaint was valid in that it asserted the zoning ordinance “effectively has a county-wide ban on hunting because it prevents sporting clays shooting facilities and shooting ranges.” Gamble also held that it was proper for Orion to claim that, under the ordinance itself, hunting and sporting clays should be permitted.

“This decision clears the way for the case to go to trial,” said Halbrook.

As a result of this ruling by Judge Gamble, the legal dispute over the efforts of Orion to use its 450-acre property in rural Nelson County as part of an overall hunting and sporting program has narrowed its focus to the conflict between local government’s efforts to regulate hunting and the ‘right to hunt’ as provided in the Virginia Constitution.

“The people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest game,” subject to regulation by the state legislature, according to the Virginia Constitution. Numerous states have such a guarantee, but few courts have decided the meaning of that right.

“Orion’s lawsuit pending in this rural Central Virginia County, promises to be perhaps the first in the United States to do so,” Halbrook added.

The lengthy legal battle with Nelson County has moved into its twelfth month for Orion’s legal team composed of attorneys Steven Raynor and John Simpson of Martin & Raynor based in Charlottesville, Virginia, whom were recently joined by constitutional law specialist Dr. Stephen Halbrook of Fairfax, Virginia.

Orion’s legal team is seeking to schedule trial dates before the end of the year in an effort to get Orion back into business and stem the significant financial losses caused by Nelson County’s denial of their conditional use permits.

Our Take: This is the type of encroaching regulation that can threaten any range at any time. Zoning ordinances are among the most difficult legal barriers for shooting ranges to scale, and they can affect even established properties like Orion’s. To view the brief on the right to hunt filed in the lawsuit Orion Sporting Group LLC v. Nelson County, visit www.stephenhalbrook.com.

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British Violent Crime Figures Spike
Despite onerous gun regulations, levels of violent crime in the U.K. soared by 11 percent in the second quarter of this year.

Add this to the “we hate to say we told you so” file, but government figures show recorded gun crime rose by three percent to 10,590 incidents in the year to June, an average of 29 a day and more than double the rate when Labour took power and instituted draconian new gun laws.

There was a 14 percent rise in offences of violence against the person: 265,800 incidents from April to June compared with 233,600 in the corresponding period last year.

Despite a claim by Home Office ministers that Labour had significantly reduced crime, the recorded crime figures showed that more than 3,000 offenses of aggression and violence, from spitting and threats to murder by bullet and blade, take place in England and Wales every day. Overall, recorded violent crime rose by 11 percent year to year. A different set of recorded crime figures showed that gun crime continued to rise. In the 12 months to June last year there were 10,280 offenses. In the year to June this year, the figure rose to 10,590, more than double the rate in 1997 when Labour came to power. There was a substantial rise in the use of imitation and replica guns, which are frequently modified to fire bullets.

Americans will be interested in the comments of Home Office Minister Caroline Flint, who said of the gun crime increases, “Of course just having a gun pointed at you is a frightening experience ... but around two-thirds of firearms offenses involve no injury at all.”

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “No amount of Government spin will hide the fact that violent crime is out of control. There is now one gun crime an hour.”

Our Take: U.S. citizens can look at Great Britain and see a similarly cultured, similarly demographic country whose gun laws have stripped regular people of the right to protect themselves. The inevitable result of a disarmed citizenry is an increase in almost all violent crime statistics.