Tompkins County Legislature Building

The Tompkins County Legislature officially came out in support of allowing the use of rifles during bear and deer hunting season. At least, for the next two years before the law is reexamined. 

The resolution was passed by a 8-6 vote. It listed several reasons why the legislature could feel comfortable supporting the change, which would loosen gun restrictions for hunters during the three week-long season. Most of the stated reasons concern the relative safety of allowing rifles, in addition to the previously allowed bows, crossbows, shotguns, muzzle loaded guns and handguns. 

"There does not appear to be a public safety reason to limit the use of rifles for deer and bear hunting in Tompkins County," the resolution read. It further asked its representatives in Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Senators Tom O'Mara, James Seward and Pamela Helming to support the necessary changes at the state level. Ultimately, the decision will come from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. 

Legislator Rich John led the way on the research of the resolution. He admitted some trepidation in supporting and leading the topic, considering his general feelings toward guns, but he had been satisfied by the research that they weren't substantially increasing danger by allowing the change. 

"A rifle bullet can go further, and there's risk there," John said. "But I believe it's counterbalanced by the increased accuracy and a lack of real safety incidents involving the use of rifles."

John, like other legislators, acknowledged the ever-present deer problem in the county, which was likely the main motivator in even broaching the subject initially. The Democrats on the legislature who voted in favor of the measure all made a point of drawing a line between their support for the bill and their general feelings toward guns.

Another key point, brought up by legislator Anna Kelles, was that the research did not seem to indicate that allowing the use of rifles would increase the overall number of guns in the county. That's because most hunters who would use rifles already own them, and simply refrain from doing so during the bear and dear season. That, though, did not convince everyone, as fears about safety and bringing in more guns to the area pushed legislators Anne Koreman and Shawna Black, at least vocally, to vote against supporting the change.

During discussion, legislator Mike Lane added the provision that after two years they would reexamine the law to determine what its impacts had been. Colleague Mike Sigler called that a good compromise. 

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