Gunfire on the KP; know the rules


Rick Sorrels

The sound of gunshots is all too common on the Key Peninsula.

The Key Peninsula is only two miles wide. A great many people, pets, picnic tables, school bus stops and house windows can be reached by a randomly fired gun.

The .22 -caliber rifle bullet can travel up to 1,600 feet. The .223-caliber bullet is just under a quarter inch in diameter and can be propelled 12,300 feet (2.3 miles). The 30-06 round can reach 18,600 feet (3.5 miles).

Firearms are very safe in the hands of a trained and knowledgeable expert. Far too many people, however, may think that ownership itself and playing a video game or watching a Rambo-type movie can qualify them as an expert.

According to Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s Lt. Gerald Lawrence, the deputy in charge of the Purdy detachment, he said “the problem is with the people without training or common sense, who pick up a gun and fire it without knowing where the bullet will end up. These people are tragedies waiting to happen. Firearms users must be constantly aware of their ‘backstop,’” he said.

Movies have perhaps given a false impression. Police are trained to never fire a weapon, even if a viscous felon is firing at them, if there is a possibility of a bystander nearby or in the background. Even a building wall may be an insufficient backstop, because modern bullets might penetrate and hit a person on the other side, Lawrence said.

Jerry Taylor, who lives on property near Wright-Bliss Road, said he’s often heard gunfire and more. “I have twice now, while standing in my front yard, heard a bullet wiz past my head within a foot or two. I could hear the direction where the gun was fired, but could not see or find anybody,” Taylor said.

A number of people interviewed had similar stories, but refused to be identified in print, stating, “they are my neighbors, and they have the guns, and I don’t know their mental state.”

Washington law is generous with gun use, provided it is done safely.

RCW 9.41.230 prohibits the aiming of any firearm, whether loaded or not, at any person, and prohibits the willful discharge of any firearm, air gun, or other weapon where any person might be endangered. Violations would be charged under RCW 9A.36 for assault, or RCW 9A.32 for manslaughter or homicide.

Pierce County prohibits the discharge of firearms within 500 feet of buildings, and within 1,000 feet of any school (PCC 9.32.080). Pierce County also allows groups of property owners to file a petition to establish a “no shooting” zone (PCC 9.32.075). It requires signatures of 60 percent of all registered voters in the proposed zone.

If you enter either public or private property without permission to shoot, or your bullets travel onto or through somebody else’s property, you could also face criminal or civil trespass charges.

According to Lt. Lawrence, an infraction is also possible for violation of a noise ordinance, but that would require repeated complaints from at least three persons before they could act.

The Key Peninsula has large parcels of land belonging to other governments and agencies like DNR, Key Pen Parks, and Tacoma Power which may have their own regulations and enforcement.

If you observe or hear something which might be violating the law or endangering “any person,” then call 911, and a deputy will respond. The officer will notify other government agencies as indicated. If, however, only vague details are provided with no specific names and addresses, then there is usually little, if anything that can be done.

For questions about zoning and legal shooting areas, contact The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Peninsula Detachment at (253) 798-3278 visit the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife at