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Firearms control isn’t an easy issue even in Woolwich

This week’s council discussion about the township’s firearms bylaw clearly illustrates the rural-urban divide in Woolwich.

In neighbouring Kitchener and Waterloo, rules governing the discharge of firearms are fairly straightforward. In the townships, there is a gray area where the rural characteristics are in conflict with the settlement areas – it’s clear that you can’t fire a gun in, say, downtown Elmira, but on the outskirts of our communities, one is likely to hear shots going off throughout the assorted hunting seasons.

While Jigs Hollow Road resident Peter Hoffman proposed prohibiting the discharge of firearms in the residential cluster where he lives, not all of his neighbours were in agreement. Council’s decision not to act wouldn’t be an option in the cities … or even the larger settlements in Woolwich.

As our population grows and our communities expand, residents are apt to come in contact with hunters – at least via the sound of gunshots in the distance. Such conflicts have already surfaced on the Woolwich-Waterloo border, where hikers on the RIM Park side have at times complained about shots being fired down by the river. More such incidents are in store at such points as Benjamin Road and in the rapidly developing Breslau area.

Growth here is already something of an issue, with many worried about the urban sprawl of our urban neighbours; council moves that would further restrict hunting may serve as fodder to those unhappy with the changes that accompany development.

That said, council’s first priority is to the safety of residents, on both sides of the township’s borders. Even where there is no direct physical threat, the perception of danger is a real concern – few people are comfortable with living, working or playing within earshot of guns firing.

With its abundant open spaces and woodlots so near to the cities, Woolwich has been a prime candidate for hunters. Unfortunately, some hunters have been slogging through private property despite a township bylaw that demands they have written permission from the landowner.

For some property owners, having trespassers on their land is annoying enough. Others like to see their properties as something of a wildlife preserve, where they can enjoy an up-close view of nature. And some are simply not comfortable with firearms being discharged in their vicinity. Whatever the reason, landowners are well within their rights to expect others to obey the law.

Simmering below the surface as well is a widespread public wariness when it comes to guns. Opinions about weapons and gun control measures, always contentious issues, are one of those quintessential topics when Canadians differentiate themselves from our U.S. neighbours. Woolwich’s stance lends one more thing to think about in the spirit of public awareness.

There was no specific incident that sparked the resident to propose changes to the bylaw. Instead, he saw the potential for future conflict in an area that might be seen by some as prime for hunting. Hoffman argued for the residential cluster to be given the same protections as other small residential areas such as North Woolwich, though such areas are deemed official settlement areas by the township, whereas the Jigs Hollow spot is not.

As growth continues, the township will undoubtedly be revisiting its bylaw before too much longer.

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