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Potential for no-shooting zone draws angry crowd to Walkerville city council meeting

About 30 Walkerville citizens showed up to Wednesday night's town council  meeting to speak about a potential no-shooting zone within the town's limits. Walkerviille Mayor John Ries said it was the largest crowd to show up to a city council meeting in over 30 years.

At a fiery Walkerville Town Council meeting that Mayor John Ries called the most attended in more than four decades, a move to be included in Butte-Silver Bow’s no-shooting zone was kicked into limbo.

The town council had previously asked Butte-Silver Bow commissioners to expand their no-shooting area to cover Walkerville’s incorporated limits, which includes the town and some areas to the north.

There are more houses in the area now, and one was recently struck by a high-caliber rifle round, people have shot deer on others’ property, and the mix of guns and people has become dangerous, town officials said.

But after a heated meeting that included shouts and a few curse words from opponents, council members voted Wednesday night to table the issue until Ries and perhaps others could sit down with County Attorney Eileen Joyce and other county officials to talk about the issue again.

Several people said they moved to the Walkerville area for its rural character, had been shooting guns and bows on their land for years without incident, and wanted that to continue.

“People moved out to the country for a reason,” Shawn Coates said amid up to 30 people who crammed into the small town hall meeting room.

Shane Hollingsworth said he had hogs and other farm animals on his spread in Walkerville and at times had to shoot coyotes and foxes to protect them. He also shoots bows and wanted to use his property to teach archery to others, he said.

He said his closest neighbor was 11 football fields away.

“I chose to live in the country to do country things,” he said.

A few opponents used profanity, and several yelled comments, including a woman who shouted, “If you don’t want to hear bullets whizzing about, why the hell are they living out here for?”

The current no-shooting zone includes the old Butte city limits before city-county consolidation in 1977, which covers what’s easily recognizable as “urban Butte” plus some areas to the south, southeast, and west to Rocker because of more housing there.

By local ordinance, it is unlawful to shoot firearms or bows and arrows within those boundaries. Violations are misdemeanors that carry fines of up to $500 and six months in jail, with cases overseen by Butte City Court.

The new area would take in all of urban Walkerville and the rest of its town limits, which stretch a ways north.

Butte-Silver Bow commissioners have to OK any expansion of the current no-shooting zone, but when they took up the request in committee recently, some Walkerville residents said they didn’t know about the proposal previously and hadn’t weighed in.

So Ries set a public hearing on the issue for Wednesday night.

He opened the meeting by saying Walkerville had existed since 1890 but had grown in recent years and more houses were likely to be built.

“I don’t know of any incorporated city in Montana that doesn’t have a (no-shooting) zone,” he said. “It has become a safety issue.”

Cathy Tutty, the attorney for Walkerville, said the town could pass its own no-shooting ordinance, but as an independent town, Butte police would not be able to enforce it.

A few people nodded in agreement, but one man yelled out, “Nice lawyer talk.”

Renee Neary said her house was the one hit with a rifle round. She said she called police, and they came out, but concerned neighbors were the ones who took the issue to town officials after that, not her.

George Ottenbreit, who said he owns property in Walkerville, then got in her face and began peppering her with questions before Ries told him to stand down. Ries interjected a few times to caution people about their language or getting personal.

Jack Neary, Renee’s father-in-law, said the bullet that hit the house was only inches from a window, and two people had been standing just inside.

A few opponents said they shot wild game on their property in or near Walkerville and taught their kids how to shoot there, too.

But one man suggested they take their children to nearby mountains to shoot, “not someone’s front yard.”

Dan O’Keefe said he had twin boys, but he doesn’t let them shoot deer on their property.

“That’s not hunting; that’s shooting a damn pet off your porch,” he said.

After more than an hour of proponents and opponents going back and forth, the issue was tabled with nothing settled.

Ries was sure of one thing, however.

“This is the most people we have had in a meeting since 1976,” he said.

Ries said Thursday that he planned to look into some of the claims and sit down with county officials again, but he didn’t know what the town council members’ next move would be. 

It’s possible they will just leave everything the way it is, he said.

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Government and politics reporter

Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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