- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Gun owners in once-rural Loudoun County, Va., long accustomed to hunting with few restrictions, may soon be forced to adjust to the region's growing pains.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors days after outlawing paintball guns near residential property agreed unanimously yesterday to assemble a task force that will consider tougher restrictions on hunting and target practice.

"It's time to re-examine the ordinances," said James G. Burton, an independent representing the Mercer District. "Our ordinances are the most permissive in the area."

For months, board members have proposed numerous ways to keep gunfire from town houses and housing developments. The only restriction currently on the books in Loudoun is one keeping shooters from firing within 100 yards of a state road.

Mr. Burton has suggested prohibiting the discharge of firearms within 150 yards of homes. Another alternative would prohibit hunting with rifles of greater than .22 caliber rimfire or shotguns with slugs.

The topic, which has drawn the interest of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has ignited a debate about the rights of gun owners and the infringement of development.

"It's an ongoing struggle in what used to be a rural county," said Rodney Huber, a resident of western Loudoun and owner of Hogback Mountain Paintball.

"It's certainly a shock to the system to find that people come in with their own values and can dictate to these folks who are used to their rights."

John Mallery, a county resident and member of the NRA, said the development from the eastern part of the county is heading to the more open west.

"A lot of landowners object to not being able to hunt on their own property," he said. "It's part of their heritage. It's a change in lifestyle for them."

In less than a decade, Loudoun County has jumped from a sleepy retreat to the Washington area's leading housing market.

In 1991, 1,637 houses sold in Loudoun County. Just two years later, sales had doubled to 3,279. In 1998, there were 4,180 new-home sales. In just the first six months of 1999, new-home sales in Loudoun totaled 2,886, more than any other county in the Washington area.

Mr. Burton said he raised the issue late last year when residents in his district called to report gunfire and hunters near their houses.

"The demographic has changed," he said, noting that his ideas are not in response to any particular shooting accidents.

Charles A. Harris, Broad Run Democrat, argued that bullets are "random and arbitrary" and hunting is dangerous. When his son or daughter takes up a sport like football or softball, there's little chance the spectators will be injured, he said.

The board agreed to set up an 11-member task force. Each of the nine supervisors will appoint a member, and the sheriff's office and Commonwealth's Attorney's Office will be represented.

The panel must report its recommendations for amending the county's firearms laws by Dec. 18.

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