What's Up With That?: Shooting animals in city absolutely illegal

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

My dad is 86 years old, and he’s been feeding pet squirrels in his yard for years. Two of his little pets went missing. And then we discovered one of the poor things had been shot -- right in his yard, inside Vancouver city limits. We figure the other one has been shot, too. It’s really hard to see Dad lose his animals, and they’re not doing anybody any harm. I want to get the word out: Are you allowed to shoot animals inside the city of Vancouver?

-- Karen

Good question, Karen. The answer is: absolutely not.

“That would not be legal,” said Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp. In fact, depending on the type of firearm used, it can rise to the level of felony crime. The same goes for all Clark County cities and urban growth areas -- places such as Hazel Dell, Felida, Salmon Creek, Orchards and Sifton. And the same also goes for “rural centers,” including Fargher Lake and Amboy.

Get the drift? Where there are concentrations of people, there mustn’t be shooting.

“Bullets can travel in unexpected ways,” said Kevin McClure, an assistant city attorney in Vancouver. McClure said the relevant law is a state law: RCW 9.41.230, which holds that it’s a crime to “willfully discharge any firearm, air gun or other weapon” in a public place or any place anybody “might be endangered thereby.” As far as McClure is concerned, that means anyplace within the city limits.

A different section of the same law reserves for the state itself the near-exclusive right to regulate firearms. If you scour Vancouver’s municipal code for firearms rules, you’ll find nearly nothing -- because the state has done the heavy lifting already. (An exception is the Vancouver ordinance banning guns from city parks, McClure said.)

In rural unincorporated Clark County, restrictions are spottier. There’s a jagged swath of county land, north of the urban growth boundary, south of the East Fork Lewis River and west of Northeast 232nd Avenue, where shotguns, muzzle loaders and bows are permitted. And then there’s the area north of the East Fork and roughly east of 232nd Avenue, where (except for cities and rural centers) there are no restrictions at all.

Clark County’s Geographic Information System has a map that details all these restrictions and where they apply, but it takes some patience to locate: Go to http://gis.clark.wa.gov/gishome; in the left column click on GIS MapsOnline; from the drop-down menu at the top choose Administrative Boundaries; and finally, click the box marked Firearms Restrictions.

McClure added there’s another law that would almost certainly apply in your case, Karen: Vancouver Municipal Code 8.24.180, regarding cruelty to animals. It makes it a misdemeanor crime to cause an animal “pain, suffering or injury.” Yours would be a hard case to prove without witnesses, Karen, but McClure said he thinks it’s “pretty plain that the meaning of the ordinance” bans shooting squirrels for no apparent reason.

Our condolences to your father.