On March 28th, 2019 I, along with classmates, attended the Vidor City Council meeting. Vidor is a relatively small town, with a population of around 11,000*. After the standard introductory protocols, the floor was opened for citizens to state their concerns. A man stood before the council members and discussed Texas Battlegrounds, an outdoor airsoft arena that had recently been registered as a nonprofit organization and was trying to open to the community. Located directly next to the baseball fields in Vidor, TX, this outdoor arena was eventually noticed by several city council members and shut down due to city ordinances. There are three potential solutions that could resolve this contradiction, but one of the solutions is the best fit for this situation.
The Issue at Hand
According to Chapter 46, Article I, Section 31: “Discharging a Weapon” in the Vidor, Texas Code of Ordinances** states:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to shoot, discharge or cause to be discharged any gun, rifle, pistol, crossbow, or other firearm of any description, or instrument, by whatever name known, that by means of compressed air or compressed gas is capable of shooting or discharging any object, missile or projectile at a velocity of sufficient force to cause damage to any person, animal or property”
Although the airsoft guns used on Texas Battlegrounds property are battery powered and spring-loaded rather than powered by compressed air, they still fall under what is defined as a weapon according to the Vidor City Council. Because of this definition, Texas Battlegrounds will be prohibited from operation until further notice.
After reviewing ordinances and contacting other outdoor airsoft arenas in different cities, I have come up with three possible solutions; addition of a new ordinance, amending the existing ordinance, and revoking the original ordinance. However, pertaining to this issue, the addition of a new ordinance would be the most viable option.
Potential Solution #1: Addition of a New Ordinance
Photo courtesy of Tanks Paintball
Richmond, Texas has a population of around 12,000* and is home to Tanks Paintball, an outdoor paintball arena where the discharge of weapons using compressed air is allowed. The Richmond, Texas Code of Ordinances Section 24-4 “Paintball guns, air guns, and similar devices” (f)^ states that business entities that involve the operation of paintball guns will be allowed to operate given they have proper insurance, permits, and take the proper safety precautions to protect both environment and people.
How This Would Work in Vidor, Texas
Under Section 46-31 in the Vidor, Texas Code of Ordinances***, there are three exceptions for the ordinance regarding the discharge of a weapon:
“(1) The person was operating a private or public shooting gallery or “turkey shoot” under an unrevoked permit issued in accordance with chapter 14, article VIII.
(2) Such person was exercising a right conferred by law, including but not limited to the making of a lawful arrest, the lawful prevention of a crime, or the lawful exercise of the right of self-defense.
(3) Such person was participating in a Civil War reenactment which occurred between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.; provided that the chief of police of the city was notified in writing of the re-enactment at least 24 hours before the re-enactment occurred. “**
A separate section could be added regarding the discharge of air rifles or paintball guns in a protected arena. It should be specified that in order to remain open, the business must take the proper security measures, have insurance, and obtain permits. While the addition of a new ordinance could be taken as a tedious process, no other ordinances would be affected in the passing of a brand new ordinance, whereas an amendment would have a significant effect on at least one previous ordinance. With a new ordinance such as discussed above, Texas Battlegrounds would be able to open and operate with the proper permits, safety measurements, and insurance.
Potential Solution #2: Amendment of the Original Ordinance
Photo courtesy of D14airsoft.com
Sanger, Texas, a small town with a population of roughly 8,000* with an outdoor airsoft arena called D14 Airsoft. The Sanger code of ordinances, Section 8.401 “Unlawful Discharge of Firearms and Weapons” defines a firearm as:
“(2) any b-b gun, pellet gun, air rifle, bow and arrow or other device altered or intended to cause any material, item or thing to become a projectile”
The inclusion of “air rifles” in the definition of a firearm seems to rule out the possibility of an outdoor airsoft arena. However, in Section 8.402 “Exceptions” it states that if the subject has a permit filed with the city and approved by the council and police, discharge of a weapon would be legal.
How This Would Work in Vidor, Texas
Vidor has an exception under Article II allowing turkey shoots. The Vidor, Texas Code of Ordinances Section 14-301 defines a turkey shoot as:
“…an activity, held indoors or outdoors, where the firing of low velocity shotgun shells at targets shall be permitted by nonprofit organizations during specified days and hours for the sole purpose of fundraising for the organization or entertainment of members of the organization.”***
If Article II was amended to have an exception for both turkey shoots and air soft arenas, Texas Battlegrounds would be able to legally operate (with the proper permits, of course).
However, this is not the most viable option. Amending the ordinance would not only take a lot of time and resources, but would also require the city council members to come to an agreement on the new wording and agree on whether or not an amendment is even necessary. Additionally, an amendment has the potential to affect the ordinance as a whole which could add another layer of complications to the process.
Potential Solution #3: Revocation of the Original Ordinance
Photo courtesy of airsoftc3.com
Kelso Airsoft is an outdoor arena in Kelso, Washington. With a population of around 12,000, Kelso, WA has a similar population to Vidor, TX*. In the Kelso, Washington Code of Ordinances, there is only one reference to weapons in Section 9.36.010 – Unlawful in a stadium or convention center^^:
“It is unlawful for any person to possess a firearm in any stadium or convention center operated by the city, school district or other municipality”
There are no other ordinances within the Kelso Code of Ordinances regarding the possession or discharge of a firearm or weapon which allows for Kelso Airsoft to remain open.
How This Would Work in Vidor, Texas
To replicate Kelso’s circumstances which allow for outdoor airsoft arenas, Vidor’s Article II Weapons Section 46-31 Discharging weapon would need to be completely eradicated from the Vidor Code of Ordinances**. The revocation of this ordinance would allow for the discharge of weapons- including airsoft weapons- within city limits, thus allowing the operation of Texas Battlegrounds. However, this solution also presents a plethora of potential issues. If the ordinance prohibiting the discharge of weapons within city limits is revoked, people could legally shoot their guns anywhere within city limits. This could result in destruction of property and potentially hurt people, specifically innocent bystanders. Although possible, this solution is not the best option.
Here’s a brief summary of the solutions presented:
Despite the obstacles facing Texas Battleground’s operation, there are options available to allow their business to open. While revoking or amending an ordinance are not the most feasible options, an addition of a new amendment would likely be the most efficient solution to the dispute between Texas Battlegrounds and Vidor, Texas.
**Vidor, Texas, art. II, §46-31, Discharging weapon.
***Vidor, Texas art. VIII, §14-301. – Definitions.
^Richmond, Texas, art. I, §24-4, Paintball guns, air guns and similar devices.
^^Kelso, Washington, ch. 9.36.010
Featured image courtesy of Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0.