At the mid-August Woodlands County Council meeting, the topic of gun use on county properties popped up. A shortened clip from the online meeting feed shared on social media implied that Woodlands County Council wanted to impose gun control. For Councillor Ron Govenlock, the social media conversation was concerning.
"People are being misled. I am responsible to my residents and all of Woodlands County to represent their concerns and bring forward possible solutions to those issues. Now, my resident's concerns are being overshadowed by a video on social media that makes the concerns seem to be about gun control rather than about one person's behaviour," he explained.
During the meeting, Councillor Govenlock brought up a concern raised to him by a neighbour about the use of firearms in a specific context. "His immediate neighbour is using firearms from the early mornings right through until the dark of night. He had approached this resident, who was using his property as a gun range, and asked them to curtail their activities because he had to work in the morning, and it was preventing him from getting the rest he needed to continue his day."
Councillor Govenlock explained that the resident who approached him wondered what they had to do to get help. "Other neighbours had expressed the same concerns, and he wanted to know if he had to get a petition going to get Woodlands County to act on the matter." Councillor Govenlock said the resident had approached his neighbour about the issue and was told to call the police if he didn't like it. "The police have been called in the past. They have failed to respond to the matter, and there is some uncertainty as to the options the County has to enforce anything on this specific property," he explained.
"I've received calls from four of these neighbours now, and this is in a residential subdivision. Their homes are within as close as 100 metres of where this activity takes place. So, it's dangerous, reckless and this discussion isn't about gun control. This is about controlling a neighbour who uses guns and is irresponsible," said Councillor Govenlock.
As a county resident, Councillor Govenlock said that seeing the explosion of comments on social media linking his actions to gun control is nowhere near his intentions. "I have registered guns that I use legally, whether it's for recreation or for controlling predators. Like most rural Albertans, we don't want gun control, and we don't want our rights undermined by the reckless, irresponsible behaviour of one or two individuals. So, we must find a solution to this particular problem that doesn't take away gun owner's rights but rather addresses the problem of irresponsible use in a residential area, of one particular individual."
In the meeting, Councillor Govenlock made a motion to direct Administration to seek out information on what options Council has to deal with the situation and address the concerns brought forward by residents. "We need to have an open discussion on how we solve these kinds of problems. It isn't about gun control. It's about solving the problem with a neighbour." One of the options he mentioned was using the Community Standards Bylaw. "We talk about noise levels and nuisances in that bylaw, and in that context, whether it's someone playing loud music into the wee hours of the morning or whether it's somebody using guns, that's disruptive behaviour."
As for the video making the rounds, chopped from the original audio (viewable on Woodlands County's YouTube channel), Councillor Govenlock said it's disappointing. "When that's the only information that the public has, what are they left to believe? Many of them are not going to go through any effort to do the research or make a phone call to me to get the other side of the story."
His motion passed by a margin of 4-3, and information will come at one of the next two upcoming Council meetings. "We should not run away from conversations or concerns that residents have. The fact that the public shows interest in an issue (through comments online) is encouraging, but when misrepresented, that introduces significant risks. This was made into something it isn't, and that takes away from the seriousness of the resident's concerns."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press