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Residents firing at squirrels creates an issue in Chesterfield
Squirrels

Residents firing at squirrels creates an issue in Chesterfield

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Squirrel

FILE PHOTO

A squirrel eats a piece of whole wheat bread.

Updated at 10:32 a.m. Jan. 6

Former Chesterfield Ward 1 Councilman Gene Schenberg insists he has the constitutional right to protect his home from repeated invasions.

By squirrels.

Schenberg first discovered damage to the downspouts on his house after it was re-roofed about nine years ago. Since then he has tried traps, poisons and trimming back trees to eliminate the squirrels.

Six years ago, he switched to a dart gun to stop the creatures in their tracks, but a neighbor saw him taking aim and complained.

"I had no idea they were going that far, I said I was sorry and stopped using the darts immediately," Schenberg said.

He then switched to a pellet gun, which has proven to be an effective remedy for the marauders, he said. But while the pellet gun has kept the squirrels at bay, the weapon has become a sore point with his neighbor.

Now the squirrel shooting has reached City Hall.

Schenberg's firing of pellet guns and darts to quell nuisance squirrels on his property has become a danger, said current Ward 1 Councilman Matt Segal, who defeated Schenberg for the council post three years ago.

Schenberg is not alone in taking up arms to control the tree rodents. Segal told his fellow council members of other instances in which Chesterfield residents have fired shotguns and .22 caliber rifles at squirrels.

"Do kids need to worry about bullets at their bus stops because a man is protecting his house from squirrels?" Segal asked. "There are other ways to do that, such as traps. There's a loophole in our current laws, and it's our job to protect our citizens."

Segal was one of the seven council members - only Ward 1 Councilman Barry Flachsbart was opposed - who gave preliminary approval Jan. 4 to legislation that would plug the loophole in city laws. A final vote is set for the Jan. 18 council meeting.

The legislation would ban the discharge of weapons within 150 yards of a house, dwelling or apartment to protect crops or any other property anywhere in the city.

The proposed law would not, among other things, apply to any police target or police shooting range; or any club or individual shooting range; or when such shooting is necessary to protect lives or livestock.

The law also isn't intended to impede or limit rights of a person to use deadly force under the state's "castle doctrine."

Segal said Schenberg's discharge of weapons has been a problem in Greenfield Village subdivision for years.

"His neighbors just behind have a pool in the back yard, and the family found three-inch long darts all over the pool deck, in the pool and on their roof, and they called the city a few years ago," Segal said.

The issue was brought before the council's public health and safety committee in 2008, when Schenberg was on the council, and the issue didn't get out of committee for lack of a motion to take it further.

Schenberg's neighbors continued to call police whenever they heard Schenberg shooting squirrels. Schenberg eventually went to court to seek a decision.

"City prosecuting attorney Tim Engelmeyer told me, at that time, that a court declaratory action was needed to resolve this so either the neighbors would quit calling police or I'd stop shooting squirrels," Schenberg said.

He agreed to go in 2009 before Municipal Judge Rick Brunk, who ruled Schenberg was within his rights and the city laws.

Schenberg said the order was forwarded to the neighbors. About three or four months ago, one of the neighbors said she saw Schenberg shooting a squirrel from a window.

A week afterward, Segal and Councilman Mike Casey made a motion to review the issue in committee.

At a city public health and safety committee on Dec. 5, Schenberg told council members that squirrels had severely damaged his property in the past and said he's spent thousands of dollars in repairs.

He said he'd been told by pest control professionals that squirrels are territorial and will continue their damage until removed. He maintained it was his right to take action to protect his property and eliminate further squirrel damage.

"While some on the council are saying this law amendment is a safety issue and has nothing to do with me and my neighbor, I feel this is a case of the council gone wild, trying to take away individuals' rights granted by the constitution because these people think they know better and want to protect people from each other," Schenberg said.

Dave Roland, director of litigation with the Freedom Center of Missouri, agrees with Schenberg.

He presented a letter to the council stating that among other things, there were "constitutional problems" with the proposed law.

His organization, he said, is a non-profit, non-partisan agency dedicated to research and constitutional litigation in the areas of free speech, economic liberty, property rights, religious liberty and limited government.

Roland stated in the letter the council has no authority to pass the bill because the state constitution says citizens have a right to bear arms in defense of their homes and other property.

If others' property is damaged by a pellet gun, Schenberg said, "there are court remedies to resolve that, but you don't need to have rights taken away."

"The bottom line is that this situation originated entirely as a feud between two neighbors, but, because I was on the city council and was a subdivision trustee, and because my neighbor had the ear of a councilman he worked with, this whole thing has spun wildly out of control to bring it to where it is today," Schenberg said.

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Our previous story

Former Chesterfield Ward 1 Councilman Gene Schenberg insists he has the constitutional right to use firearms or other weapons to protect his home from repeated invasions.

By squirrels.

But Schenberg's firing of pellet guns and darts to quell nuisance squirrels on his property has become a danger, said current Ward 1 Councilman Matt Segal, who defeated Schenberg for the council post three years ago.

Schenberg is not alone in taking up arms to control the tree rodents. Segal told his fellow council members of other instances in which Chesterfield residents have fired shotguns and .22 caliber rifles at squirrels.

"Do kids need to worry about bullets at their bus stops because a man is protecting his house from squirrels? Segal asked. "There are other ways to do that, such as traps. There's a loophole in our current laws, and it's our job to protect our citizens."

Segal was one of the seven council members - only Ward 1 Councilman Barry Flachsbart was opposed - who gave preliminary approval Jan. 4 to legislation that would plug the loophole in city laws. A final vote is set for the Jan. 18 council meeting.

The legislation would ban the discharge of weapons within 150 yards of a house, dwelling or apartment to protect crops or any other property anywhere in the city.

The proposed law would not, among other things, apply to any police target or police shooting range; or any club or individual shooting range; or when such shooting is necessary to protect lives or livestock.

The law also isn't intended to impede or limit rights of a person to use deadly force under the state's "castle doctrine."

Segal said Schenberg's discharge of weapons has been a problem in Greenfield Village subdivision for about three years.

"His neighbor just behind has a pool in the back yard, and the family found three-inch long darts all over the pool deck, in the pool and on their roof, and they called the city three years ago," Segal said.

The issue was brought before the council's public health and safety committee, but Mr. Schenberg was then on the committee and the issue didn't get out of committee, Segal said.

"Mr. Schenberg interprets our laws as giving him the right to protect his dwelling from squirrels and that allows him to discharge a weapon," Segal said. "And, more than a year ago, our Municipal Judge (Rick) Brunk ruled Mr. Schenberg was within our laws to do so."

About three or four months ago, one of Schenberg's neighbors was in a screened in porch at her home when she heard a gun go off and saw the barrel of a gun projecting from Schenberg's bathroom window, Segal said.

Schenberg testified at the Dec. 5 public health and safety committee meeting that "the neighbor was in camouflage and I didn't see her."

Flachsbart insists the proposed law is in violation of state law.

"This goes way beyond what the city should be doing," he said. "When I shoot Nerf darts in a game on my front lawn with my grandson, I could be in violation of this law. It's just stupid."

According to the minutes of the Dec. 5 public health and safety committee, Schenberg told council members that squirrels had severely damaged his property in the past.

He said he'd been told by pest control professionals that squirrels are territorial and will continue their damage until removed. He maintained it was his right to take action to protect his property and eliminate further squirrel damage.

Dave Roland, director of litigation with the Freedom Center of Missouri, presented a letter to the council stating that among other things, there were "constitutional problems" with the proposed law.

His organization, he said, is a non-profit, non-partisan agency dedicated to research and constitutional litigation in the areas of free speech, economic liberty, property rights, religious liberty and limited government.

He wrote that the council has no authority to pass the bill because the state constitution says citizens have a right to bear arms in defense of their homes and other property.

"No legislative body in this state may lawfully deprive citizens of this right," he wrote.

If the council approves the law, he wrote, his center "will likely file suit to have the ordinance invalidated."

However, City Attorney Rob Heggie said the new law was fully within the city's power to regulate firearms and wouldn't violate state law.

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