Should shooting arrows in back yards be legal?

It's a sign of the times. Bows and arrows, once the quintessential amusement of kids, increasingly are being banned in suburban back yards.

John Larsen practices in his driveway
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John Larsen practiced shooting in his Maplewood driveway. He hopes cities will “be realistic” when they change the rules. “I see things as just going overboard.”

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Lewis Anderson looked out the window of his Roseville home this spring and spotted a couple of teenage boys shooting arrows into a bale of hay next door. Anderson's blood pressure soared: His wife and young son had just been playing nearby.

The boys weren't using "some toy archery kit," he said, but fast, compound bows. Anderson walked over and asked them to stop, explaining that shooting bows and arrows was illegal in back yards. But after checking city ordinances, he was shocked to learn it still was allowed.

Not anymore. Roseville recently became one of a growing number of suburbs to ban bows and arrows from back yards, offering a few exceptions for their use. A similar ordinance in Bloomington went into effect last week.

A classic childhood sport is being limited increasingly to school programs and archery ranges as suburbs become more densely populated and bows become more powerful.

"I think that with typical suburban lots, you don't have the length required for safety," said Lewis, whose complaint to Roseville City Hall sparked its ban. "As first-ring suburbs get more populated, they need to adopt the same rules as St. Paul and Minneapolis."

A typical bow and arrow used by hunters can travel 250 feet per second, according to a report prepared by Roseville city officials. Bows and arrows used by beginners are far less swift, but also can be less accurate. And a clear stretch of 60 to 90 feet is needed for safe target practice -- with no trees or other back-yard obstacles blocking the shoot.

'Public safety concerns evolve'

The bans also apply to parks and undeveloped, natural areas of cities. Sandra Johnson, associate city attorney in Bloomington, says that before the ban, residents could legally shoot bows and arrows in some areas near the Mississippi River flats that now are being used by joggers and walkers.

"Your public safety concerns evolve with your community," Johnson said.

Before adopting its ordinance, Roseville checked the law in several other suburbs. It found that Falcon Heights, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Burnsville and Richfield had banned bows and arrows, with a few exceptions.

Likewise other cities around the country have begun to limit the sport. Last month, Eau Claire, Wis., banned the use of bows and arrows in its own Archery Park. Last year, the Cincinnati suburb of Fort Mitchell also banned archery in back yards after a family pet was shot. The bans aren't exactly engulfing the nation, archery advocates say, but they are slowly surfacing in the halls of government.

Typically under the suburban bans in Minnesota, back-yard archery is prohibited, but schools and authorized archery ranges are allowed.

In some suburbs such as Minnetonka, the police chief was authorized to grant individuals permission to shoot from their yards, but typically after residents applied for a time-specified permit.

Although the bow and arrow falls under the category of "dangerous weapons" in most city ordinances, it has some quirks. It's against the law to "conceal" one, but as Johnson jokes, that would be pretty tough. Criminals are not robbing homes or committing deadly assaults with them. And in suburbs such as Roseville, police do not recall any arrests for unlawful possession, transportation or use of a bow and arrow.

"How many people get shot and killed in the United States by accident with a bow and arrow?" asked John Larsen, who runs the Bwana Archery range in Little Canada.

Larsen is among the suburban residents who urges city councils to "be realistic" when they change rules. He grew up shooting bow and arrows in his parents' back yard in Arden Hills. He still enjoys practicing with red and orange balloons as targets in a makeshift archery range that extends from his driveway to garage in Maplewood.

"Most people have been shooting in their back yards for 30, 40 years without a problem," he said. "I see things as just going overboard. We've had a business 30 years and never had to carry someone out on a stretcher."

Daniel Erickson, an officer for the Rapids Archery Club in Coon Rapids, says he understands both sides of the debate.

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  • Fast facts

    Monday November 26, 2007

    Estimated bow hunters in Minnesota: 70,000Minnesota State Archery Association clubs: 34Estimated speed of hunter's arrow: 250-300 feet per secondEstimated travel...

  • John Larsen grew up shooting arrows in his parents’ back yard in Arden Hills and now practices in his makeshift archery range in his driveway in Maplewood. “Most people have been shooting in their back yards for 30, 40 years without a problem,” he said.

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John Larsen practices in his driveway