Thursday, August 20, 2009

Veterans protest Gettysburg gun law

The following article appeared in the Evening Sun:

About 30 uniformed veterans showed up to the Gettysburg Borough Council meeting on Monday to protest what one called an "unfair, if not illegal," ordinance adopted by the borough in June.
Under Gettysburg's newly amended firearms ordinance, re-enactors and veterans' organizations that routinely discharge firearms in Gettysburg are now required to pay a fee, obtain a permit and show proof of insurance before firing blanks within the borough.
At the time the ordinance was adopted, members of Borough Council were reassured that the new requirement should not break the bank for any organizations - particularly those that perform military funerals - because the $20 fee is paid only once a year and will cover all of a permit holder's events for that entire year.
It's the principle of the matter, however, that packed the room with veterans on Monday.
As the group's representative, Gettysburg Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 15 Commander Bob Finch asked the council to waive the fee requirement for organizations that perform military funerals.
"We ask this not because it costs $20, but because levying any fee against this venerated ceremony speaks the wrong message and a waiver to this ordinance portrays the proper respect to those fallen service members," Finch read from a prepared statement.
Finch - who said he represented 10 "congressionally-chartered" military organizations in Adams County - said he had reason to believe the fee requirement also violates federal law.
That's because service organizations that perform military funerals do so as a representative of the Department of Defense and are therefore covered by government-provided liability insurance. He also pointed out that all eligible veterans are entitled to a funeral with military honors and that that responsibility is delegated to organizations like the VFW and the Adams County Allied Veterans Council.
"We believe this ordinance to be unfair, if not illegal, to our service organizations and inadvertently a measure of disrespect to our fallen brothers and sisters who have honorably served," Finch said.
He said about 70 military funerals were performed in Adams County last year and that more than 25 have been conducted so far in 2009. With "extreme reservation," the veterans council already paid the fee for 2009 "because we respect the law."
Borough Council President Dick Peterson responded by saying the council made a "very difficult decision" and that the matter would be revisited in the Finance Committee.
Councilman Robert Krummerich, who chairs that committee, said the ordinance was passed in an effort to protect residents from potential lawsuits because firing blanks can be dangerous and the borough could be on the hook for liability.
Out of fairness, council decided not to single out any groups - such as veterans, police or firefighters - for fee exemptions, he said.
"We wanted to make this as uniform and objective as possible," Krummerich said.
The ordinance amendments were proposed in March by Mayor William Troxell, who said the borough's existing law neglected to address the longtime Gettysburg tradition of discharging guns during re-enactment events and military ceremonies.
Before it was amended, the ordinance dated back to 1968 and simply read, "No person shall, except in defense of person or property, fire or discharge any gun or other firearm within the Borough of Gettysburg."
That vague description left a lot to interpretation.
Some officials also saw the amendment as an opportunity to regulate a potentially dangerous activity by requiring permit applicants to show proof of insurance.
Council had cited the pending criminal case of a 44-year-old re-enactor, who is charged with two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly shooting a 17-year-old re-enactor with an unloaded black-powder rifle at point-blank range. The shot resulted in powder burns to two of the teen's toes and the partial amputation of one, according to court documents.