A possible move to alter the current no discharge firearms and weapons map in Colts Neck has residents and area hunters split, as the township struggles to balance deer management, hunter's rights and safe firing distances.
The map is back on the table in an effort by the Township Committee to align with county and state hunting regulations, according to The News Transcript.
Mayor Michael Fitzgerald said in a Feb. 13 meeting that the committee was approached by "the state," however he did not specify who at the state level pointed out a discrepancy or in which branch, and told that its ordinance needs to align with state discharge ordinances.
"There are a couple of problems," Fitzgerald said. "It's the distance for the [bow and arrow]...and there's also the issue of just having a blanket ban [on firearms and weapons discharge]."
A current ordinance prohibits discharging a weapon or firearm within 450 feet of a building or residence.
The state ordinance allows a weapons discharge 150 feet from a building, and a firearms discharge 450 feet from the building except on township property.
Weapons including bow and arrow and cross bows for hunting.
Former Colts Neck Mayor Rose Ann Scotti digs into the deer management issue in our Local Voices section.
For the Township Committee, a balance between safety and the managing the large deer population in Colts Neck is key. However, Fitzgerald said right now, his issue is that the township needs to get on the state's level.
After the ordinance is in line with the state, he said, then the township can consider new deer management techniques.
Some residents said some area hunters aren't following the current ordinance in the township. And while an ordinance can't stop illegal behavior, residents said making it less strict may invite more hunters and up the township's risk for an accident.
One resident in attendance at the Feb. 13 meeting said a neighbor of hers found an arrow in the side of his home in Colts Neck. While the arrow most likely came from illegal hunting activity, she said a lenient ordinance invites more of the same.
Because the current firearms and weapons regulations in Colts Neck are stricter than county and state wildlife laws, the township could potentially be at risk for legal action from area hunting groups.
"The goal is to comply with the letter of the law and still preserve what we have here," Fitzgerald said. "And in some cases, make it better."
However, in a 1973 case (Township of Chester v. Panicucci) with issues almost identical to Colts Neck's today, the state Supreme Court ruled that a township's need to further legislate due to the nature of a problem within local boundaries is not preempted by state law.
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "Subsequent Supreme Court pronouncements do suggest, however, that local firearm ordinances are valid regulations not preempted by state law."
Despite the possibility of being overridden by the state, some residents are saying bringing weapons closer to occupied structures in Colts Neck is not worth the risk, and they would rather the township take the risk of being sued.
"The attorneys are there to advise you, but you represent us. And I would venture that a super-majority, if not more of the town, is against this.," One resident said. "Let them sue, let's see what happens. Let's not amplify the accidents that have already happened."
According to the Panicucci case, the current discharge ordinance, while more stringent than state law, is not immediately overridden if the Township Committee sees a need for stricter regulations.
The case has also since been cited as precedence in court cases questioning the authority of municipal and county laws versus state laws.
Deputy Mayor Russel Macnow said for him, the discharge map is a part of the larger issue of driver safety. Macnow did not address the statutory concerns between the township and state, but said he sees the deer problem getting worse.
"We know there are a fair amount of deer-related motor vehicle accidents," Macnow said. "For me, that is a very big concern...for me it came down to, how can we handle this problem that is not getting better, it's getting worse? Everything seems to come back to hunting."
Committeeman and Former Mayor Jim Schatzle was the only member to speak out against a change to the discharge map, saying he would vote no to the change in an effort to further protect residents from hunting accidents near residences.
A public hearing on the issue will be held on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Colts Neck Courthouse.