Veterans group contests city guidance on firearms salute

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Photo provided Members of the Marine Corps League of Beloit pay tribute to veterans when requested by funeral homes across the city. The Veterans of Foreign Wars group of Beloit also has members in the guard. Volunteer veterans rotate to handle the duties.

BELOIT — Some veterans’ groups in Beloit are firing off complaints after being caught off guard by the city citing an often-overlooked ordinance that may impact burial ceremonies for veterans.

On Presidents Day, members of the Marine Corps League 2306 and Veterans of Foreign Wars 2306 honor guard say they were told by funeral staff that Beloit Police would not allow them to fire the customary, 21-volley salute during a funeral ceremony for a veteran at Emmanuel Baptist Church, according to honor guard commander Steve Mayfield.

Mayfield said some of the longest-tenured members of the group have been involved with honoring veterans since 1968, and could never recall a time when they were asked to stand down. Guard member Marcus Marzette and Mayfield both said the group had fired the rifle salute at nearly every church, park and cemetery within city limits.

“I was surprised and disheartened because this ceremony is sort of a last call for a veteran, and we want to give all veterans who are eligible their final send off,” Marzette said.

Representatives from Daley, Murphy, Wisch Funeral Home are set to address the Beloit City Council at Monday’s regular board meeting to ask the council to consider amending its ordinance relating to discharging firearms to allow for the capped, blank-firing weapons used by the honor guard to be excluded from the ordinance.

Members of the Marine Corps League and VFW will attend the meeting in full uniform to support the move, while giving public comment from veterans regarding the issue, Marzette said.

Police Chief David Zibolski cited the city ordinance which prohibits firing weapons in the city limits, noting conducting the honor guard in some areas within city limits could pose a possible risk to the general peace of a neighborhood.

“Decisions regarding approval to discharge firearms are based on public safety concerns,” Zibolski said.

Police said the firing of rifles near populated housing, busy arterial streets and intersections would not be allowed, because it could pose a public safety hazard. The department also said drivers heading down a busy street or through a busy intersection could speed up, stop or swerve if firearms were discharged as part of a salute, possibly causing an accident.

“The same activity near residences would have the same horrifying effect on occupants who have no idea if the shots are real,” Zibolski said.

Zibolski told the Beloit Daily News the groups are given reasonable alternatives and options for conducting the salute ceremony. There is a city provision that allows for honor guards to operate in certain cemeteries across the city.

The city’s firearms ordinance reads: “No person shall fire or discharge any firearm or air gun within the City, except a police officer in the lawful discharge of his duty, provided this subsection shall not apply to the target practice of the regular club, or any shooting gallery conducted within the permission of the Police Department.”

Honor guard members said they have had no problems with the ceremony.

“We want to understand the ordinance. We just want to try and figure this out,” Mayfield said. “I do understand the concern of the police department.”

Mayfield recently met with police to discuss the ordinance, and hopes the plan could be altered to help honor deceased veterans.

“We want to keep doing this, it’s one of the best ways to pay our respects,” Mayfield said.

The VFW and MCL bring eight members to a veteran’s funeral when requested, and rotate with a total of 13 volunteers.

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