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Sylva reinstates civil penalties for discharging firearms, Molotov cocktails

Sylva reinstates civil penalties for discharging firearms, Molotov cocktails

The Town of Sylva has reinstated misdemeanor charges for discharging a firearm or a Molotov cocktail in town limits after state legislation decriminalized all town ordinances in 2021.


“As we’re going through our recodification, in 2021, there was legislation passed that decriminalized all town ordinances,” said Town Manager Paige Dowling. “The two that the police department is recommending that we include as misdemeanors when we recodify are section 24.37, discharging firearms within town limits, and section 24.38, Molotov cocktails. The request is for those to be misdemeanors.” 

The Sylva Board of Commissioners took up the recommendation from the police department at its Aug. 24 meeting. While the state previously had a blanket statute that made the violation of any ordinance a misdemeanor, legislation took that blanket statute away and now governing bodies are having to go back and decide which ordinances deserve what civil penalties.

According to the Sylva Police Department, there have only been two or three instances of someone discharging a firearm within town limits in the last two years.

While Commissioner Ben Guiney floated the idea of instituting a harsher class of misdemeanor as punishment for discharging a firearm — class one instead of the recommended class three — to make a statement about the seriousness of the safety hazard, the board ultimately followed the recommendation of the police department and instituted a class three misdemeanor.

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“In my book, the fact that you make it illegal, a misdemeanor, is the deterrent. That actual punishment that the person gets is not much of a deterrent; it doesn’t make that much of a difference,” said Mayor David Nestler.

The board passed a class three misdemeanor for discharging firearm within town limits unanimously. The case of Molotov cocktails proved to be slightly more complicated.

“My first concern is, what exactly is becoming a misdemeanor for this — are we making possessing a Molotov cocktail, throwing it, having the ingredients for one? — because I’m pretty sure I have all the ingredients necessary for a Molotov cocktail in my car,” said Nestler.

The ordinance prohibiting these devices not only includes language that prohibits people from manufacturing, possessing, transporting or using a Molotov cocktail or other firebomb, it also includes a section that prohibits anyone from possessing all the items or materials needed to manufacture a Molotov cocktail or other firebomb.

“That would be hard to enforce because everyone’s got them,” said Commissioner Brad Waldrop.

Both Dowling and the police department agreed with the board that prohibition of simply possessing the materials necessary to build a Molotov cocktail did not need to be part of the ordinance.

Waldrop made a motion to remove the language about possessing the materials necessary to build a Molotov cocktail, while still instituting a misdemeanor charge for manufacturing, possessing, transporting or using a Molotov cocktail or other firearm within town limits. The motion passed unanimously.

The town will continue to discuss town ordinances and their civil penalties as it works its way through recodification.

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