Citizens group abandons 350 yard shooting limitation

COVINGTON -- The committee that is reviewing proposed changes to the county's firearm discharge ordinance has abandoned a distance limitation increase from 100 to 350 yards, it was announced at a Tuesday night work session.

"That 350 yards is no longer on the table as far as the proposal," said Jenny Carter with the County Attorney's Office, who made a presentation regarding the committee's discussions so far.

In addition the committee, now called the Citizen Public Safety Working Group, is concerned that a proposed prohibition on shooting in all zoning districts besides agricultural, agricultural residential and rural estate might be "overly broad" and is looking at alternatives based on minimum acreage and population density. The group is also looking into adding an exemption for BB, air and pellet guns.

It is also considering keeping language in the current ordinance that allows a projectile to leave the property from which it was fired with written permission from the property owner.

The names of the nine-member group were revealed Tuesday night. They are:

Stan Edwards Jr.; Julius Hays; John Head; Ed Hutter; Maj. Morris Jones with the Newton County Sheriff's Office; Kevin Norman; Marcus Stowe; and Commissioners Levie Maddox and Lanier Sims. Ernie Smith with the GIS Department is assisting the committee in obtaining data and creation of maps.

Head said the group is emphasizing public safety and "the goal is going to be to find a safe way for handling firearms in our community."

Edwards said the committee is open to other members. Commissioner Nancy Schulz noted that 53 percent of the population on the western side of the county, where a majority of calls have been reported, is female, and recommended addition of females to the committee.

"I want everybody to know these people actively, aggressively sought to be on this committee because they cared not only about shooting but about the safety concerns of our constitutional officer here," he said.

Sheriff Ezell Brown initially proposed change to the firearm discharge ordinance due to increasing complaints from citizens. Commissioner J.C. Henderson asked the sheriff if he is comfortable with the committee's work.

"The committee, as it stands today, we're comfortable. I think we're headed in the right direction and I think this is just evidence of what we can do when we come together as a community, as a group and as concerned citizens of this county," Brown responded.

The committee wants 90 days to work before making a recommendation to the BOC. Ellis recommended that meetings be opened to the public.

Officials are stressing that hunters would be exempt regardless of what changes are made to the ordinance, and would only be subject to state law; nighttime hunting would be allowed and the distance requirements would not apply to hunters. A requirement that shooting be limited to one half hour before sunset and one half hour after sunset would apply to target shooting, not hunting.

Destruction of dangerous or nuisance animals, defense of person or property, existing sports shooting ranges, military and law enforcement personnel and discharge of blank cartridges would also be exempt.

Commissioner John Douglas wants to add the county's four watersheds to the exemption list; he said the 2-acre minimum lots on the east side are not where the problem exists.

Sims said that based on raw numbers, District 2 in west Newton has been the source of the most complaints regarding firearms discharge, followed by District 1 on the east side, then District 3 and District 5, with the least amount of calls coming from District 4.

"At the end of the day, we're trying to keep this county safe. We're not trying to infringe on anybody's rights, and at the same time, we have to think about the future and future subdivisions and what's going to happen in this county," Sims said.

He asked citizens to contact committee members with feedback and said the group is reaching out to organizations, civic groups and homeowners associations that might want to host small town hall meetings. Sims can be contacted at lsims@co.newton.ga.us or 770-883-7449. Maddox can be reached at 678-502-8929 or lmaddox@co.newton.ga.us.

Though the board normally doesn't allow public comments during work sessions, Ellis relaxed the rules Tuesday night and opened the final 10 minutes of the meeting to comments. With more speakers than time, the comments spilled over into the public comments portion of the regular meeting that followed. Jessica Wright, who has been an outspoken opponent of the proposed changes, said that since it can be dangerous for senior citizens to get into bathtubs, she's proposing a ban on all bathtubs unless they are inspected by the sheriff, as well as a prohibition on the use of power tools within 10 yards of any public assembly.

"These are some ideas we could implement to have some real public safety discussions," she said.

One citizen said his neighbor is using a semiautomatic and firing at his property while he is outside. He said the distance requirement needs to start at the property line, not at the structure.

Logan Bistok said his Labrador retriever was shot by a careless hunter and called for a strong ordinance to "help us stay safe."

"Nowhere does the Second Amendment give someone permission to discharge a firearm in a neighborhood," he said.

Pam McDermott responded that, "I had a dog killed by a car, but I'm not up here as a proponent of banning cars."

McDermott said she also had an uncle killed by a reckless hunter and a father who was nearly killed by a bullet from someone on a shooting spree.

"But I am not up here standing as a proponent of gun regulation, gun control and infringement on Second Amendment rights," she said.

McDermott said criminals are not paying attention to current laws and more restrictions will only burden the Sheriff's Office with more calls.

Larry McSwain suggested the committee get input from experts with the Department of Natural Resources, who have served on similar committees throughout the state. He also suggested a public awareness campaign.

"It's pretty clear a lot of folks ignore the existing ordinance; maybe it's due to just not knowing about it," he said. "Maybe some of the neighborhoods most impacted would benefit from knowing the laws and how to get relief."

He said state law and local ordinances already make it illegal to fire across property lines. "It's just a matter of how you enforce those and you're going to need a lot of help from the public to do that."


Billy 2 years, 5 months ago

This is why we're going to lose our 2nd Amendment rights. Ludicrious "freedom" issues that ignore safety and consideration of one's neighbor. Gunfire should be limited to shooting ranges and hunting properties--period. Again, someone has been killed in this county in the last few years because of "casual" gunfire, firing a gun just for the fun of it, not to stop an intruder, hunt, or test one's skills or the firearm itself on a gun range. When someone gets hurt, or worse, because reasonable and needed laws were not passed, the blood will be on your hands. This irresponsible approach will eventually lead to our 2nd Amendment rights being curtailed at the very least, if not outlawed altogether. Congrats to the childish "rights" camp that opposed this reasonable and safe law. When they take our guns away, it will be your fault more than anyone else's...


GrendelMan 2 years, 5 months ago

Enforce the current ordinance and prosecute the violators! Very Reasonable.


dawgs14 2 years, 5 months ago

Billy, I have 43 acres and if I get 350 yads from my house to shoot I am off my property - in any direction. The Charlie Elliot firing range is nowhere near 43 acres. Reconcile that for me please - since you are a poli-sci major and all. I have a friend in the western part of the county with 100 acres. Should he have to go to a firing range? Common sense laws and citizens exercising common sense makes for a safe environment. It takes both.


John 2 years, 5 months ago

dawgs, It is easy to reconcile this - using common sense, a little physics & basic math and you can just sit back an relax.. 1. Charles Elliot is a DNR controlled shooting range w/a published list of rules that "must' be followed and they are policed by DNR and has rather high dirt embankment as a backstop. While the shooting range at Charles Elliot is not on 43 acres - it is located on a rather large property and well away from any residential housing - like maybe a mile or two or more. 2. A little ole .22 caliber (short) can travel 1 mile without an appropriate back stop. 3. You have 43 acres and 1 acre equals 4840 square yards so you have 208,120 square yards of property. 350 square yards equals 122,500 square yards . That gives you 85,620 square yards of extra space to rome around and shoot and still remain on your property unless you have a very, very large home. Should your 43 acres is shaped very long and narrow, like the abandoned rail road line, you might have an issue keep in compliance to the current law but don't really think you will. 4. If you don't feel you have enough room - go to your friends 100 acres place 'cause he has 2.32 times as much as you have and you have plenty to get your shooting in as long has you can keep your bullets from leaving the you property boundries and it won't cost you a shooting fee which is much less than a case of Bud. .


Logical 2 years, 4 months ago

I say ban cars because reckless drivers kill people - they drink and drive, text and drive, eat and drive, talk and drive. Ban mobile phones while you're at it. Ban motorcycles because people sometimes drive recklessly and kill themselves. Ban alcohol because people abuse it, kill themselves or others. Ban all sweets because diabetes kills many thousands a year.
Now... can you see what a ridiculous argument this is? It's not the cars, mobile phones, alcohol, motorcycles or sweets which cause the killing. It's the stupidity of the people using them without thought for existing laws, ordinances, and downright common sense. No doubt in the vast majority of cases where gunshots have ocurred in Newton County, some EXISTING state law or county ordinance was being broken. MORE laws won't change a thing, except to keep the sheriff's office running to more calls and trying to regulate this crazy new ordinance. Unfortunately, you cannot legislate stupidity, which is what they're trying to do. Create all the ordinances and laws you want - the criminal element only scoffs at them, while the law abiding citizens are punished. Look to Chicago for proof. They have the strictest laws and the death rate is sky high from guns. This is political appeasement due to a lack of a more creative solution. Perhaps they should refocus the discussion to help the sheriff come up with a more viable solution to help him enforce the existing laws, which already address the issue. Why is it out of 1,330 calls only 12 people were arrested in 2011 and 2012? There is an answer to this question, and it needs to be addressed. The efforts to curtail our 2nd Amendment rights in this country go way beyond a concern for the safety of our citizenry.


henrystamm 2 years, 5 months ago

I am not sure who these people are. But it appears to me that this is just the start of stopping us from owning weapons to defend ourselves from government control. Control and/or prohibition does not work, it never has, but it is and was not taught in the schools for years, hence the stupidity by the chosen ones to look good. Leave the laws alone and enforce and inform them to the irresponsible people.


Frustrated 2 years, 5 months ago

The simple truth of the matter is this..there will always be people who dont follow the rules and the laws. You can make all the ordinances you want but it will not stop those to dumb or too irresponsible to follow them. Police cant be everywhere at once to watch for those breaking the laws. There will always be those unfortunate accidents that occur and no number of laws will prevent that.


mansfield 2 years, 5 months ago

The Sheriff overstepped on this issue. The people and one or two commissioners have let it be known this was not the time or place to do a blanket ordinance that would not solve the problem or even stop one person from breaking the current law. If someone is breaking the law, prosecute them and leave the rest of us alone!


NoLiberalHere 2 years, 5 months ago

@Billy - Why would you think that a new law or ordanance would change what happened last New Year's Eve? The same amount of gunfire would still come from the same low caliber communities. The Sheriff's Dept is going to have to do a better of job of enforcing the laws that we currently have on the books. Our dear sheriff is just trying to look like he is trying to correct the problem when in fact he is harming the people that do not shoot casually and actually pay his salary through their taxes. Our sheriff could get serious with good old fashioned police work and stop a lot of the casual shooting. The only problem is that his political base is the one commiting the crimes and then they are unwilling to help the police stop the shooting thugs. If laws actually worked on the lawless then we should be living in a pure Eutopia given the laws that we currently have. Until we change the culture of our thug community then we should be prepared for high crime rate in the western zones of our county. What we need is a tough, colorblind sheriff that works for all of us and our families and not towards his next election. Save your laws around guns and do something about our communities. We could start with term limits on our dear sheriff.


John 2 years, 4 months ago

The problem with laws, is that law enfrocement can't do anything unless they catch the law breaker in the ACT of violating law or ordinance & even at that then they might give them a slap on them wrist. It is almost impossible to prove a bullet left ones property boundries or even exceeding noise level ordinances. Just an example, like in the case of traveling 49 mph in a 25 mph (residential zone) in the county, The sheriff deputies has to be moving to run radar on the street/roads otherwise theycan only issue a warning ticket & record it.- unless they double the speed limit or 50 mph - then drive can be cited. To be a little mor correct - this holds true with the exception of one road under the NCSO jurisdiction were a deputy can sit & run radar - wonder why that exception exists? IMHO the only way to catch moreof thm in the act is to get more deputies on the streets & roads - that cost more money & Newton County Commissioners & Chariperson decides where the money will be spent. Newton County is a good size piece of territory to cover - approx 2.5 times that of Rockdale and NC has about 30K more people (100K vs 70K. Heck, it takes time to drive around 43 or a 100 acres.


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