About Those Gunshots—What Are the Rules, Anyway?


Sara Thompson, KP News

Restricted areas for gun use. Courtesy Pierce County Firearms Advisory Commission

Gunshots occasionally ring out over the Key Peninsula. And when they do, some residents wonder whether the shooting is legal and if they should report it. 

“I am aware of some of the issues surrounding many residents who chose the Key to locate in order to have some of that rural life and open space and be able to safely target shoot or train their kids how to shoot,” said Chad Williams, senior planner for Pierce County Planning and Public Works, and the nonvoting chair of the Pierce County Firearms Advisory Commission. “Meanwhile others believe there are areas and properties that are too small to safely shoot that those areas should be restricted automatically. There are currently areas on the Key Peninsula where the firing of guns is prohibited.”

The Pierce County Firearms Advisory Commission was established in 2005 to serve the Pierce County Council and executive in an advisory capacity on prohibitions, restrictions and other recommendations relating to firearms. It reviews all existing and proposed areas within the county where the discharge of firearms is or would be prohibited or restricted. The commission is also charged with recommending whether such restrictions are reasonably necessary and in compliance with state law.

The commission has seven voting and two nonvoting members. Three are the presidents of three county shooting clubs. Four are unincorporated Pierce County registered voters who are appointed by the county executive and must provide verification of attendance at a firearm safety class or Washington hunter safety class. The two nonvoting members are representatives from the Pierce County Sheriff and from the director’s office of Planning and Land Services.

“The overall rural character of the Key does include very large parcels as well as some urban-sized parcels. The balance of that rural life is delicate between those who want to target shoot, ride dirt bikes and quads; those who are farming and in timber; and others who moved to the rural areas for the peace and quiet,” Williams said. 

In areas where guns may be lawfully discharged, regulations limit the place and time. Firearms cannot be fired within 1,000 feet of any K-12 school or within 500 feet toward any building occupied by people or domestic animals, or used for storage of flammable or combustible materials.

Sound nuisance is also unlawful. “A Public Nuisance Noise,” according to Pierce County Code, is defined as “any noise that unreasonably annoys, injures, interferes with or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of three or more persons residing within separate residences in the same community or neighborhood, although the extent of the damage may be unequal.” 

There are some exemptions from these laws, including firearms that are legally discharged in protection of life and property, for farm slaughter activities, in any area of the county if such discharge is authorized under the supervision and control of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the course of special hunts authorized to protect property or to manage wildlife populations, and shooting at ranges of lawfully constituted shooting clubs. 

Citizens can petition to restrict firearm discharge from an area although the county regulations state that no single proposal for an area may exceed 160 acres. Citizens must provide a legal description or map and a cover letter explaining the reasons, along with a history of violations in the area and contact information of the person who will act as a liaison. Signatures of at least 60 percent of registered voters owning property within the proposed area, verified by the county auditor or designee, are also required. 

Citizens can petition to remove restrictions using the same process. 

“If residents hear gunfire and feel it is illegal, they should call 911,” Williams said, adding that the deputy sheriff who is part of the commission brings call data to hearings. “Normally it’s tough to know where the shooting is coming from if illegal shooting is being reported. Nine times out of 10, it turns into a noise complaint. The deputy recommends recording gunfire with a phone to assist the deputy if he should arrive after the gunfire has expired.”