Earlier this month, the Tompkins County Legislature narrowly voted in favor of a resolution that would allow rifle hunting for big game in the area, joining 58 other upstate New York counties that already granted such permission.
While rifle hunting is already allowed for small game, such as ducks and rabbits, the provision expands it to include deer and bear, which previously could only be hunted with shotguns, handguns or crossbows. The measure, which passed 8-6, compels the County’s legislative delegation to support an amendment to state environmental conservation laws, which, by custom, Albany almost always grants.
Although much of New York has long permitted the use of rifles during the three-week big game hunting period, which takes place from Nov. 16 to Dec. 18 this year, discussions on the proposal lasted for months — highlighting the increasingly contentious nature of the debate on changes to gun policy.
Amanda Champion, a county legislator who voted against the resolution, believed that the move would amount to a worrisome encroachment of firearms at a time when many have increasingly feared the danger of guns.
“It is an expansion of gun rights and regulation, and we’re in a critical time right now,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
Michael Lane, on the other hand, voiced support of the change on the grounds that while rifles’ bullets can travel farther and faster than shotguns, they are ultimately more accurate and cause less suffering to animals being hunted.
“This is one of those issues I went back and forth on,” he said. “It’s not the responsible hunters I’m worried about, it’s the irresponsible ones.”
Other supporters said that the measure simply closes a small gap in the legislation that otherwise already has allowed rifle hunting for smaller animals.
“It makes no sense to me that hunters can use rifles 49 weeks a year to shoot anything but deer and bear, but cannot use rifles for three weeks a year and only if they’re hunting deer and bear,” Deborah Dawson, who voted in favor of the resolution, wrote in an email to The Sun.
Dawson said her decision was also based on statistics that refuted the supposed correlation between shooting accidents and the type of weapon involved, arguing that the law would not change gun-buying behavior.
“[I]t’s been my experience that folks who hunt tend to own several guns, including rifles,” Dawson said in the email. “The law as it stood was simply NOT a deterrent to buying a rifle.”
Dawson also said that Tompkins County’s more populous municipalities, such as the Villages of Cayuga Heights and Lansing, are free to set their own restrictions on deer hunting, and would likely not be affected by the recently passed legislation.
Anne Koreman, who voted against the resolution, argued that Tompkins County is more populated than the nearby counties that already allow big game rifle-hunting, potentially posing a risk to the passerby.
Koreman told The Sun that her neighbor once had a stray bullet graze the side of his face from several hundred feet away. She also described a friend who was accidentally shot while hiking by a hunter who was using a rifle.
“Her girlfriend was killed, and she had several bullets in her,” Koreman said. “It could do that at a distance because rifles can shoot a really long distance.”
“My main concern is safety,” she said. “I think it’s an accident waiting to happen.”
An amendment introduced by Lane will allow the new rule to be reviewed by the Legislature in two years, pointing out that “if there [are] issues, we could revert to just hunting by shotgun.”
Even with that concession, Koremane still expressed reservations about the bill.
“It’s much harder to take away people’s perceived rights,” she said. “Anything that we’re doing now to expand the use of any gun, we should have a really, really good reason to do it.”