COVINGTON — Sheriff Ezell Brown is recommending changes to the county’s ordinance regulating discharging of firearms, citing public safety concerns.
Brown told commissioners at their retreat over the weekend that the sheriff’s office has received a large number of calls related to firearms being discharged in or near residentially zoned areas. Some of the callers have reported shrapnel crossing property lines and, in some cases, hitting their homes and endangering their families, he said. In 2011, there were 616 calls and in 2012, there were 714 calls related to firearms discharging. Through Feb.7, there have been 80 calls this year.
Brown is proposing prohibiting the discharge of firearms “in a manner which results in the projectile leaving the property on which it is fired” and within 350 yards of any residence, place of worship or public assembly or roadway. The current ordinance limits it to within 100 yards.
“The timing of it may be such sensitive timing right now because of everything else going on with the gun rights, so forth and so on,” Brown said. “I think this is far beyond gun rights. I think this is about the protection of our community.”
Brown reminded commissioners of an incident in 2007 in which a stray bullet from a gun being used for target practice by two men came through the roof of a Newton County home and killed a 31-year-old mother of three as she sat at her computer.
Brown said he received a recent complaint from a resident whose neighbor started shooting a small caliber gun at about 9 a.m. and by 11:30 appeared to be shooting a .50 caliber.
“All I can tell property owners is you need to talk to your Board of Commissioners about this. We can only enforce what’s on the books,” he said, adding that deputies often find themselves acting as mediators between neighbors.
Brown said neighboring counties have had tougher ordinances in place for years.
Commissioner John Douglas raised a concern about the affect on hunting areas on the east side of the county and the South River Gun Club. The gun club would be grandfathered under an exemption for shooting ranges, said Jenny Carter with the County Attorney’s Office.
“With all this talk about gun control, I’m not sure the timing on this is not going to put us in a bind, or put me in a bind over on the east side,” Douglas said.
Brown said the issue isn’t about gun control.
“I’m in favor of the Second Amendment,” Brown said. “However, I think we would negate to do our fundamental duties if we wait until this time next year or four years from now and we lose lives as a result of us thinking politically.”
Commissioner Lanier Sims said he has received numerous calls over the last two years from residents saying bullets have been flying over their roofs and, in at least one case, hitting a man’s home.
Commissioner Levie Maddox added that while he does target practice with his kids, he’s concerned that during hunting season there are bullets whizzing by his house, located in the center of 86 acres.
“I think we need to protect the citizens and our officers and support them,” he said.
Under Brown’s proposal, discharge of firearms would be prohibited in most zoning districts: R1, R2 and R3 — single family residential; MSR — mixed use single family residential; DR — single and two family residential; RMF — multi-family residential; MHP — manufactured home park; MHS — manufactured home subdivision; OI — office institutional; CN — neighborhood commercial; CH — highway commercial; CG — general commercial; M1 — light industrial and M2 — heavy industrial.
It would be allowed in agricultural, agricultural residential and rural estate districts, but only if there is adequate protection in the form of a backstop and proper field of fire arranged to prevent danger to neighbors and nearby properties.
Firearm discharge in the appropriate areas would be limited to between one half-hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset.
Prohibitions against firing at a person, at or from a dwelling, house, railroad, train, boat, aircraft, motor vehicle or building used for assembling people would remain.
Exemptions in place would remain for law enforcement; anyone lawfully destroying dangerous animals for wildlife nuisance abatement; discharge of blank cartridges for theatrical or signal purposes, military exercises or funerals or memorial events; any resident lawfully defending person or property; and lawful use at a private or commercial sport shooting range. An exemption for hunting regulated and conducted in accordance with state law has also been added.
The BOC plans to discuss Brown’s proposal at its March 5 meeting.