Cumberland Times-News

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June 14, 2013

Firearms act expands safety zones near schools

CUMBERLAND — The Maryland Firearms Safety Act — which will prohibit purchase of certain rifles and clips as well as change the process for buying handguns — will also expand the shooting safety zone around schools.

Senate Bill 281, sought by and eventually signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, becomes law on Oct. 1.

Of the numerous amendments to the bill, one proposed by Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County, increases the zone in which it is illegal to discharge a firearm around an occupied school to 300 yards.

The actual wording from Garagiola’s amendment is, “A person, while hunting for any wild bird or mammal, may not shoot or discharge any firearm within 300 yards of a public or nonpublic school during school hours or at a time when a school-approved activity is taking place.”

Existing law treated schools the same as any occupied home in that the safety zone was 150 yards. The shorter distance will continue to be the safety zone for residences and other occupied buildings.

Maryland hunters are being made aware of the upcoming change on pages 7 and 16 of the recently printed Maryland Guide to Hunting & Trapping 2013-2014.

Earlier in the General Assembly session, Senate President Mike Miller introduced SB 754 that would have expanded the zone to 500 yards. That bill, however, did not make it through the legislative process.

 “The new law will not apply to bows and arrows,” said Paul Peditto, director of the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service.

Peditto said the Department of Natural Resources was not involved in the final decision to establish the amended safety zone at 300 yards.

The Times-News used Google Earth to determine which lands around schools in Garrett and Allegany counties could potentially be affected.

The newspaper did not attempt to identify owners of the lands or determine if those lands are used for hunting.

Some schools are within city limits where firearm discharge is already illegal by municipal edict. Examples in Cumberland would be Fort Hill High School and West Side Elementary.

Other schools have rural locations placing them near fields and forests that may be used by hunters. Such schools include Northern High School in Garrett County and Flintstone Elementary in Allegany County.

The most obvious example, however, is Northeast Elementary off Valley Road near Cumberland.

A 300-yard arc, measured from the main school building, reaches into forested hills as well as fields that could be hunting areas.

Bears have been sighted from or near the school in recent years. Deer are common in the area.

The law will apply to private schools as well. Although Bishop Walsh School is within the city limits where firearm discharge is illegal, a 300-yard distance would extend onto the northern slopes of Haystack Mountain, descending toward LaVale and past the Cumberland boundary.

Peditto said his interpretation of the safety zone amendment is that it will not apply to the youth centers operated by the Department of Juvenile Services.

Those centers, such as the one on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County, are surrounded by forest land, most of it in the public realm such as a state forest.

Neither does the law apply to universities, colleges or home schools.

Miller on Thursday and Garagiola on Friday did not respond to emailed requests from the Times-News seeking comment.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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