Residents discuss shooting guns in Valley city limits

Published 3:43 pm Tuesday, July 23, 2019

VALLEY — The Valley City Council will be studying what to do about gunfire in the city limits following point and counterpoint arguments presented by two Shawmut community residents Monday night.

One resident, Michael Boyd, said that nearby neighbor Maxon Hartley’s use of target practice on a large stump posed dangers in a neighborhood where there are lots of people.

The other resident, Hartley, claimed to be an excellent marksman, who was very careful with his shooting and always aimed away from populated areas.

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In a bizarre twist to the dispute, the large stump Hartley had been shooting at has been dragged to Boyd’s property with a Gadsden flag being planted on it, suggesting “Don’t Tread on” my right to be safe from gunfire.

Boyd and Hartley were each given five minutes to state their case before the council.

Boyd began by saying that he respected gunowner rights and owned guns.

“I love them,” he said. “This has nothing to do with gun ownership. It’s about gun control within neighborhoods in the city. We need to be safe in residential areas.”

While many cities in Alabama have ordinances against shooting in populated areas, Valley does not. Police officers can make cases for reckless endangerment, but that can be vague when someone is target practicing. Under current law, it’s OK to do this providing there is “adequate backstop.”

“There’s too much room for interpretation with this,” Boyd said. “Five different police officers can have five different opinions with this. There’s nothing safe about firing a weapon in a residential area.”

Boyd said he had taken photos of the stump, showing that some bullets had grazed off it and some had gone clear through it.

“Each one of those bullets could have killed somebody,” he said. “Had officers carefully examined the stump they would have seen that it was not an adequate backstop. I think our officers are doing their jobs, but someone’s opinion is not worth somebody’s life. Officers have told me they can’t do anything about this. They tell me their hands are tied because there’s no city ordinance on gunfire in the city.”

Hartley countered by saying that he’s 52 years old and has been shooting guns since he was very young.

“I am an excellent shooter and am extremely safe,” he said.

He said he was shooting away from the residential area toward a massive stump that was close to six feet in height and five feet wide. It was hard to miss, he said, and the cleared-off Shawmut Mill site was behind it.

Hartley said he didn’t like Boyd making a big deal over the stump.

“He dragged it to his property and planted a flag on it,” he said.

Hartley said he’d never missed the stump while firing at it.

“Even if I did, the bullet would have hit a berm on the mill property,” he said. “The only way to be dangerous from where I was shooting was to turn around shoot toward the residential area, and I never did that. To ricochet toward the residential area, the bullet would have to bounce back over my shoulder. I’m an expert marksman, and that would never happen.”

Hartley said he felt like he’d been set up by some kind of conspiracy.

“I’m OK with an ordinance if that’s what the council want to do,” he said, “but it shouldn’t be based on the bald-faced lies that have been coming out of this. I won’t be shooting there anymore anyway. I just wish someone had approached me to discuss this before it blew up on Facebook the way it did.”

Mayor Leonard Riley asked Chief Tommy Weldon to research gunfire ordinances other Alabama cities have and to give copies of them to members of the council.

“We will look at this in a work session,” Riley said. “I’m not a gun person, but I do respect gun owner rights. I am not comfortable with people shooting guns in residential areas. This is especially dangerous in mill village areas where the houses are close together. I think we need to research this and come up with an ordinance.”

The mayor asked Weldon if there was any kind of time limit on shooting in the city. Weldon said he didn’t know about that but that officers could intervene in any situation they considered dangerous.

“Reckless endangerment is the law we always use, but it’s somewhat subjective,” he said.