Carmen's law: Cat shooting prompts new gun measure
She was one family's pet, but the death of Carmen the cat may soon have an impact on every resident of Albemarle County.
On Wednesday September 6, a day after Hook press time, County attorney Larry Davis plans to present to the Board of Supervisors a draft ordinance that, if passed, will strengthen the county's laws on discharging firearms by creating "safety zones" around homes and other buildings. The move comes, Davis says, after prompting from Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos in the wake of Carmen's April shooting in the posh Bentivar subdivision.
"When we were dealing with the cat killing case, and we went to try to get a warrant for discharging in a subdivision, we found that Bentivar and many others in the county were exempt," says Camblos. "We thought that was absolutely wrong."
While County code has long outlawed shooting in residential zoned neighborhoods and near or across public roads, many Albemarle subdivisions actually lie in areas zoned rural, where shooting guns is permitted, as long as one doesn't fire directly into someone's home. Bullets can easily travel between yards, and County Supervisor Chair Dennis Rooker says he fears for the safety of people in such neighborhoods.
"Camblos remarked to me that he was surprised to find there was no ordinance to prohibit shooting guns," says Rooker. "That motivated me to want to get something done. For the protection of residents in the county, we need to do something that's reasonably restrictive."
As the Hook reported in its May 18 cover story, "Claws and effect: Bentivar shooting sparks outrage," Carmen was a three-year-old black cat who belonged to Klaus and Vanessa Wintersteiger and their two children. On the night of April 24, the family discovered her in the garage bleeding from bullet holes in her neck and front leg. They took Carmen to an emergency veterinary clinic, but learned that extensive surgery to amputate her leg and shoulder had an uncertain outcome, and they euthanized her.
Police arrested the Wintersteigers' neighbor, businessman George Seymour, owner of the Import Car Store on Hydraulic Road and Emmet Street.
The case pitting animal activists against those who believe the rights of property owners are trampled by free-roaming cats. Although Seymour admitted he'd shot the cat, he claimed it was in response to cats scratching the paint on expensive cars parked in his driveway.
When Seymour's wife, Kathy, testified that cats regularly scratched the car paint, often costing the couple from $600 to $1,600 per car, titters erupted in the courtroom. One paint professional says cats can inflict damage, but he disputes such figures.
"I've never had to repaint from a cat scratch," says Rick Lasocki, owner of Paint Perfections Unlimited. Cats, says Lasocki, "don't have enough weight behind them to physically scrape all the way through the paint." Although he regularly sees "light little scratches," Lasocki says the majority of the fixes require "five minutes of wet sanding and buffing." The average cost: "about $60," he says.
For Seymour, who was convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty in Albemarle District Court on August 22, the cost of defending his cars proved much higher. He'll spend 10 days behind bars and perform community service.
"I'd like to see the gun law changed," says Susanne Kogut, executive director of the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of losing the right to shoot in the ‘hood, however. "It makes sense to some degree, but most people who have purchased property in the county enjoy that privilege," says Vicki Hale, co-owner of Woodbrook Sporting Goods, "so I'm sure there will be some opposition."
Camblos knows he'll take some heat, but he says it's worth it.
"I own guns, and I believe in a person's right to own and use a gun," he says. "But given the population of the county and the number of subdivisions we have, shooting guns in one of those subdivisions should not be allowed.
Her name was Carmen, and there may soon be a law for her