Lancaster, Pa. — Lest anyone mistake what matters to Conoy Township officials, they now can be assured that gun ownership is a source of community pride.
In a move that sparked international attention, township supervisors have erected red-white-and-blue welcome signs that also warn: This is not a gun-free zone.
Supervisory board chairman Stephen Mohr – a deer farm owner – came up with the idea last fall and received unanimous approval from his four fellow supervisors. More than a dozen signs were posted in recent weeks.
“The values in this community are God, family, guns and friends, and not necessarily in that order,” said Mohr, who estimates that about 87 percent of the township’s households are “gun-protected.”
He said that while the township has always been pro-gun – even passing a 2013 ordinance aimed at reinforcing the Second Amendment – mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook demanded that Conoy send a strong message to any visitor planning to do harm.
“I started following shootings around the country, and when the anniversary of Sandy Hook came around, we started talking about signs,” said Mohr.
He said he didn’t expect the initiative to trigger so much attention.
“I didn’t want a lot of fanfare, but it went ballistic,” he said. “I’ve got a list of people who want signs for their own neighborhoods. I’ve heard from people in Florida and California. They want to know how they can do something like this in their own towns.”
Mohr claims that most Conoy residents are supportive, but he’s heard from detractors, too, and shortly after the first signs went up, someone spray-painted several with peace symbols.
“It’s a controversial topic when you talk about guns,” Mohr said. “Most of the negatives are coming from the (political) left. They’re the ones that don’t think you and I should have any need for a gun … let the government protect us. But it doesn’t work that way.”
While Mohr says petty crimes recently have increased in Conoy, according to Sperling’s Best Places, an organization that ranks quality of life in cities across America, Conoy is one of the safest towns of its size, with major crimes against people and property well below half the national average.
Hunting and other outdoors activities are big among its more than 3,300 residents, said Mohr, who once served on the Pennsylvania Game Commission board.
“Strangers (to Conoy) may get excited if they pull up alongside my truck at a restaurant and see three weapons on the front seat. We don’t hide our weapons when we go from one hunting spot to another. They’re visible.”
Many residents also have concealed-carry permits, Mohr said. “We’ve got a new hiking trail along the Susquehanna River. People who come to walk that trail should feel better knowing there are people around who can protect them.”
But at least one woman who hikes the trail was quoted in Lancaster Online saying the signs don’t speak for everyone. “I think it gives the area a feeling that I’m not sure the people want to convey,” Deb Garber, of West Donegal Township, reportedly commented. “Knowing guns are around doesn’t make me feel any safer.”
Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Conoy is promoting a fallacy. “It’s a canard that more shootings happen where there are gun-free zones, because no town in America is a gun-free zone.”
“The Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to own guns in their homes, and no jurisdiction in America completely prohibits people from carrying guns in public,” he said.
It’s a “tragic misperception” that guns in the home will keep families safer, he said.
Just before this issue’s deadline, the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, stepped forward to cover the nearly $900 price tag for the new road signs.