South Portland eyes ban on pellet guns, sling shots

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday will consider outlawing pellet guns, sling shots, bows and arrows and other weapons on public lands and roads.

The proposed ordinance would also make it illegal for people to use those weapons anywhere in the city – even on private property – except at authorized shooting galleries or in self defense.

The proposal, which will have its first reading on Sept. 20, is the result of a Police Department request to have the city attorney review the city’s weapons ordinance to make sure it complies with state law.

In addition to what he described as house-keeping changes, Mayor Tom Coward said the discussion has expanded to address police concerns over the use of pellet guns and other similar devices within the city.

Police Chief Ed Googins said in 2009 the department responded to 33 calls relating to guns that shoot either metal or plastic pellets.

As of July, the department has responded to 11 calls this year, Googins said.

“As I told the council, we’re not making this up,” Googins said. “We are responding to these calls.”

Councilor Tom Blake, however, believes the city may be overstepping its boundaries with the proposed ban and overreacting to a relatively small problem.

“I think we’re bordering on a violation of civil rights,” Blake said. “More people die from speeding (than) from BB guns. Are we going to make driving illegal?”

The wording of the proposal could prove problematic for owners of the weapons:

“No person shall have in his possession in or on any city street, way, sidewalk, park or other public place any bow and arrow, BB gun, air gun of any kind, gas pellet gun of any kind, spring gun, sling shot or any other instrument or weapon made for the purpose of throwing or projecting missiles of any kind by any means whatsoever within the city, expect in performance of official law enforcement duties, at authorized shooting galleries or ranges or when en route to the same, or in self defense.”

Blake said the city is sending mixed signals.

“We promote businesses to sell these in the city,” he said. “We’re telling the community, ‘You can buy them, but you can’t use them.'”

While people would be allowed to have these weapons on their way to a shooting gallery, the proposed wording could expose someone to being cited by police for transporting a newly purchased pellet gun, sling shot or bow and arrow home from a store.

“That’s a problem that probably needs to be addressed,” Googins said.

A violation of the ordinance would result in a civil summons, unless the device is used in other criminal activity, such as threatening someone or shooting windows, Googins said.

The city of Portland has an ordinance prohibiting the discharge of pellet guns, bows and sling shots within city limits, unless at authorized galleries. It also prohibits the possession of loaded pellet guns in public places, including in a vehicle on a public way, between sunset and sunrise.

Coward said the council is looking for public input about the proposed change. The majority of councilors, he said, are undecided about whether only to ban the weapons on public property, or extend the ban to use on private property.

“At this point, it’s an open question,” Coward said. “Everyone understands there are personal liberty issues.”

The Maine Civil Liberties Union declined to take a position on the proposed ordinance. A spokesman for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine could not be reached.

Googins, however, said he would prefer to have a complete ban, because of the city’s small house lots and congested neighborhoods. He also noted the difficulty officers face when responding to calls, where they may have to differentiate between handguns and pellet guns.

“It would be easier for us if there was a total prohibition,” Googins said. “It’s how much they look like real guns that are the problem.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.

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