By Michael Boyink
At next week’s meeting of the Ava Board of Aldermen, the council will reconsider the recent changes they made to the city’s Discharge of Weapon ordinance.
The Council revised the ordinance at the December 11th City Council meeting. Their intent was to add bows and crossbows to the list of weapons that can’t be discharged within the city limits, but the new language remains troublesome.
The issue started last November when Missouri Department of Conservation Agent Mark Henry started getting complaints from Ava residents about deer hunting within the city limits.
The hunter was Ava resident Lyndell Lakey. Lakey says he believed he was doing everything right. He had gotten permission from the land owner, and says,”We looked at the city ordinances online. They didn’t say anything against bow hunting.”
He began hunting with his crossbow. He shot and wounded a deer and began to search for it.
Calls continued to come to Agent Henry, who didn’t see any violations from a Department of Conservation perspective. But he felt Lakey may have overstepped a city rule. Henry says, “For 13 years I’ve been telling people that bow hunting inside the Ava city limits was illegal.”
Agent Henry contacted Ava Chief of Police Reggie Johnson and let him know about the complaints.
According to Chief Johnson, Police Sergeant David Overcast stopped to investigate a vehicle on the shoulder of road with its hazard lights on. It was Lakey’s, which he had left to search for the injured deer. Sergeant Overcast then wrote Lakey the ticket for discharging a weapon within the city limits.
Upset, Lakey brought the ticket to Mayor David Norman. Norman and Chief Johnson looked into it further.
“The wording didn’t specify crossbow. Lyndell shot the deer with a crossbow,” Norman says, “so I called the Lakeys and said there won’t be any ticket.”
East Ward Alderman Keith Jones says, “The root issue is a crossbow got fired in the city limits and an arrow went where it shouldn’t have. We wanted to get the discharge of bow & arrows and crossbows specifically banned in the city ordinance.”
The Mayor and City Council looked to how local communities like Nixa and Seymour worded their ordinances to include the additional types of weapons. They voted to implement similar language at their next regular meeting on December 11th.
However, the revised ordinance has issues that have residents concerned. Comments have appeared on social media and led to a recent story by Springfield TV station KY3.
One issue is that the revised ordinance has no stated exceptions for residents to discharge a firearm while protecting themselves, or for police officials to discharge a weapon while in the line of duty.
That will be addressed by the Council next Tuesday, but in the meantime Chief Johnson reminds residents, “Missouri State law states that it’s legal for a police officer to discharge a weapon within the city limits while in the line of duty, and state law trumps city law.”
Another concern is that the revised ordinance is written so broadly that kids throwing anything while playing outdoors in Ava could find themselves in trouble with police.
“The intent wasn’t to stop every kid shooting a nerf gun outdoors,” Chief Johnson says, “but rather to have a law to stand on if an issue came up repeatedly and complaints were made.”
Mayor Norman says, ”We made a mistake and I’ll take full responsibility. Wording got left off and we’ll correct it.”
Alderman Jones adds, ”My goal is to find something that works for everyone. I’d even like to see wording that allows for backyard target practice, and it only becomes an issue if the BB or arrow goes into another yard.”
While the Aldermen are working to clarify the rules around the use of weapons within the city limits, they are aware that there is a growing deer population in town.
Jones continued, “In my work as a state trooper, I saw a lot of car/deer accidents on Route 5. The city has a lot of deer, and I’d like to see some scheduled, sanctioned city deer hunts to thin them out.”
Approved deer hunts within the city limits were briefly discussed at the December 11th City Council meeting but the issue was tabled for the future.
The Ava Board of Aldermen will meet Tuesday, Jan. 8, 5:00 p.m. at City Hall. Residents wanting to give input on this or other issues need to get on the agenda by contacting City Hall at 417-683-5516. Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.