COVINGTON -- Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting has been cancelled. Chairman Keith Ellis said the only item that was to be considered was the amendment to the county's firearms discharge ordinance proposed by Sheriff Ezell Brown, and that item would have been postponed in order to set a date for a work session on the matter and to give the public more opportunity for input. Ellis said he expects the work session will take place either before the BOC's March 19 or April 2 meeting, but a definite time and date has not been set.
Ellis said a majority of commissioners agreed it is imperative to get citizen feedback on the issue.
"We want to make sure we try and get it correct without juggling too many things at once," he said.
The BOC will still be meeting for a 6 p.m. work session on the proposed Salem Overlay Tuesday in the Newton County Historic Courthouse.
Sheriff Ezell Brown has proposed changes to the county's ordinance regulating discharge of firearms due to public safety concerns.
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 told commissioners at their planning retreat on Feb. 16. "I think this is far beyond gun rights. I think this is about the protection of our community."
Brown told commissioners 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. There have been 80 calls through Feb. 7 of this year.
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.
Some commissioners said they have received calls from residents complaining about bullets narrowly missing or hitting their homes.
Brown said his deputies' hands are tied because the current ordinance has so few limitations.
Commissioner John Douglas said the timing of the amendments is wrong given the national controversy over gun rights, and is encouraging constituents to speak out.
"With the assaults on the 2nd amendment, this should raise a huge red flag in Newton County and you should let your commissioners know you oppose these gun control regulations," Douglas posted on his Facebook page.
But Brown said the issue isn't about gun control; it's about public safety.
"I'm in favor of the Second Amendment," Brown previously 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."