Rural subdivisions

The first light of day filters through fog near a rural subdivision in south Lake County's Winfield Township. It's not uncommon to hear gunfire from hunters or recreational shooters in this area, at the intersection of 123rd Avenue and Randolph Street.

LOWELL — Like many people, Duane Ward likes to sit on his deck and relax.

Perhaps not like many people, the sound of gunfire regularly invades what Ward hopes could be safe and quiet times.

“All day, and occasionally three or four people blasting away at all times,” Ward said.

It's generally people target-shooting, hunting or just “blasting away” at something in their backyard, Ward said.

“During the weekend, there is gunfire everywhere,” he said "It's gotten way out of hand."

It's a growing problem in Northwest Indiana, where subdivisions, including the homes of many families with children, are quickly being built in what used to be open rural tracts of farm and woodland.

Too close for comfort

Ward, who lives in unincorporated Lowell, recently approached Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong at Strong's county government office to complain about the firing of guns in his rural neighborhood.

Ward told Strong his area is becoming more congested with homes and residents, and is asking county government officials to review ordinances — and county sheriff's police to better enforce laws meant to protect citizens from endangerment.

“I’m not saying you can’t do it,” Ward said of shooting guns. “I’m saying you have to have the acreage to do it on. What is it going to take, someone getting killed?”

The county's ordinance prohibits the discharge of a firearm for the sole purpose of target-shooting or practicing-shooting within 200 feet of property lines of a platted, approved and developed multi-lot subdivision of 1-acre lots or less.

“That’s too close,” Ward said.

Stray bullets

Other residents have complained that bullets are coming too close to residencies in the Preserves subdivision in Lowell as well.

At a recent Lowell Town Council meeting, residents of that subdivision told board members of target-shooting from outside the town.

Damian Mitchell, of Michael Drive, told the council he found a bullet that had come in over his deck and entered his house. He said there is a "big berm" visible on Mount Street, which is outside the town limits, and "we see them shooting into it."

Police Chief Erik Matson said the matter currently is being investigated.

Another close call came in Winfield, a rural south county town with one of the fastest-growth rates.

In July, resident Shane Brazeal told the Winfield Town Council about bullets flying near his home, including one that entered his residence. 

"My house was shot up," he said. 

The bullets apparently were the result of several kids target-shooting from a vacant lot near 113th Avenue behind Brazeal's home, Lake County police said.

There have been other incidents in Winfield, including in December when stray bullets thought to be from hunters caused damage in the Stonegate Commons subdivision.

Evolving ordinances

Winfield lacks an ordinance on the discharge of firearms, but that could change soon. Clerk-treasurer Rick Anderson said an ordinance is being circulated for comments and final revisions.

Most Region cities and towns have an ordinance, unless it's for personal protection, that says it is unlawful to discharge a weapon in city limits. Shotgun-hunting is permissible on tracts of land of 20 acres or more, provided there is no discharge of a firearm within 400 feet of any building, road or property line, or within 1,200 feet of any residence not owned by the hunter.

State law, which prevents localities from enacting some firearms restrictions, mostly deals with possession and ownership. Firearm discharge regulations generally are enacted by localities.

People who live in unincorporated Porter County are allowed to hunt, target shoot and otherwise shoot weapons, providing they have the proper backstop and are not endangering any people or property. 

In April, a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited discharge of firearms within 1,000 feet of a residence in unincorporated LaPorte County met stiff public resistance and was discarded by county commissioners.

LaPorte County Councilman Mark Yagelski said he has no problem with people having the right to target-shoot, but there should be some logical rules put in place "that we don't have people shooting 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Yagelski is suggesting a citizens' committee to review the matter.

In Lowell, Ward has a suggestion for his area and the Region. 

"We've got shooting ranges," he said. "Go down there and shoot all day and knock yourself out." 

Reporting like this is brought to you by a staff of experienced local journalists committed to telling the stories of your community. Support from subscribers is vital to continue our mission.

15
1
1
2
0

Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.