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Gun ordinance proposal under fire

:The areas shown in green represent the A, A-R, and R-E zoning districts where the discharge of firearms would still be permitted with limitations under a proposed amendment to the county's firearms discharge ordinance. The areas shown in white, except for the cities, are the zoning districts where the discharge of a firearm would not be permitted except for the exemptions of hunting, military or law enforcement, destruction of dangerous or nuisance wildlife, protection of person or property, discharge of blank cartridges and existing sport shooting ranges. Special Illustration

:The areas shown in green represent the A, A-R, and R-E zoning districts where the discharge of firearms would still be permitted with limitations under a proposed amendment to the county's firearms discharge ordinance. The areas shown in white, except for the cities, are the zoning districts where the discharge of a firearm would not be permitted except for the exemptions of hunting, military or law enforcement, destruction of dangerous or nuisance wildlife, protection of person or property, discharge of blank cartridges and existing sport shooting ranges. Special Illustration

COVINGTON — An overwhelming majority of speakers were in opposition to proposed changes to the county ordinance regulating discharge of firearms at a public forum hosted by Newton County Farm Bureau at the Historic Courthouse Monday night.

Only one person in the packed boardroom spoke in support of the ordinance, while more than 20 spoke in opposition.

Keith Mitchum, president of Farm Bureau, said the organization is not taking a stance but facilitated the event in response to questions from members.

Sheriff Ezell Brown opened the forum by stating that the matter is not about gun control, but about public safety.

“I support the Constitution of the United States. I support the oath of office and I will adhere to the code of ethics of the office of sheriff. But it is also my responsibility to serve and protect not one citizen but every citizen here in Newton County,” he said.

Brown stressed that he has never stated that he wants to impede hunting rights, or the ability to protect person or property. Brown said the problem is not with hunters but with recreational and celebratory fire — people firing into the air — primarily in high-density areas.

But many residents still indicated they believe they will be prohibited from hunting and from protecting their property from wild animals if the ordinance is approved.

And they said the new distance requirement won’t do anything but punish law-abiding residents.

William Smith, who owns a 500-acre farm in east Newton, said, “At what point do we stop widening these zones of non-shooting? Our rights slowly get taken away little by little. It’s like boiling a frog. It doesn’t know it’s being boiled until it’s dead.”

Resident Todd Bowen stated, “I think we’re trying to overregulate law-abiding citizens. I don’t believe this ordinance is going to fix reckless behavior. Law-abiding citizens do not need to be told to be law-abiding citizens.”

The Georgia Wildlife Federation is opposed to the proposed ordinance amendments, said President and CEO Todd Holbrook, who spoke out at the meeting. In a follow-up interview on Tuesday, Holbrook said that sport shooting supports hunting by giving hunters the necessary practice to get comfortable discharging a firearm. Holbrook said high-powered weapons can shoot much farther than 350 yards, and the celebratory shooting the sheriff mentioned is already illegal.

“The distance around every structure is problematic and it does not appear to be necessary to support the mission of safety,” Holbrook said.

“You end up restricting a bunch of people that are doing things correctly. It becomes an unnecessary restriction,” he added.

One resident said he teaches his daughters to shoot so they can defend themselves and the ordinance would prohibit him from doing that on his property. Another said he owns a pawn shop and his top source of income is from used guns. He said he has to test the guns to make sure they work and he does that in his back yard; the new distance requirements would force him to find another location. The same would be true for the gunsmith who fixes the guns that don’t work, he said.

“One thing people are not seeing is the impact this is going to have on a small business. This will hurt my business, it will hurt our profit, it will hurt our profit margins. In this economy we can not afford it,” he said.

Some questioned why a local ordinance is needed given that the state sets regulations related to reckless conduct and sets a firing distance of 50 yards. Local law can be more restrictive than state law; it cannot be less restrictive.

Chairman Keith Ellis said a residents’ committee will discuss the issue and attempt to find middle ground and make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners. The committee has not yet met and has not officially been appointed by the board, he said, adding that the committee was waiting to get feedback from residents before meeting. Commissioners Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox will serve on the committee and said they welcome public input.

Sims can be reached at lsims@co.newton.ga.us or 770-883-7449. Maddox can be reached at 678-502-8929 or lmaddox@co.newton.ga.us. Commissioner Nancy Schulz also requested that her contact information be published, as she would like to hear from residents of District 3. Schulz can be reached at nschulz@co.newton.ga.us or 770-337-7562.

Sims said he lives on a 100-acre farm where he allows hunters and learned to shoot as a youngster. He said he understands the opinions presented at the meeting and would also like to hear from residents in the high-density areas.

“It’s going to be a tough road. It’s not going to be a quick road. Working together we can get there. We can make it where the majority is happy with this ordinance,” he said.

The current ordinance was amended in 2006 to reduce the distance from 350 to 100 yards from which a firearm could be discharged from any residence, place of worship or public assembly or roadway. Brown is proposing to go back to the 350 yards. But he said Monday night that’s just a proposal and nothing has been finalized.

As proposed, 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.

Exemptions would apply 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 current ordinance does not exempt hunting.

Discharge of firearms would be allowed in agricultural, agricultural residential and rural estate districts, 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.

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.

Firearm discharge in the appropriate areas would be limited to between one half-hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset.

There were 714 complaints to the Sheriff’s Office in 2012 about discharge of firearms and 616 in 2011. Year to date there have been more than 80 complaints. Of those complaints this year, 44 calls involved reckless conduct, 16 calls involved property damage and 12 people were arrested. The bulk of complaints occur at night and are concentrated in the western portion of the county.

There have been two injuries and one death in the past five years, Brown said. The death occurred in 2007 when a stray bullet from a gun being used for target practice by two men came through the roof of a home and killed a 31-year-old mother of three as she sat at her computer.

Comments

Billy 1 year, 4 months ago

I'm pro 2nd amendment, and vote that way, but I don't believe in the discharge of firearms outside of a hunting property or shooting range. It's just too dangerous. A person in Newton County was killed by a stray bullet in the last few years and the person who shot the gun was prosecuted and imprisoned. Two lives ruined, and likely more than just those two. Plus, like motorcycles, it's just too noisy. If you had a zillion acres, that would be good, but if that were the case, you'd be discriminating against small land owners. There cannot be freedom without responsibility. That's why we're losing our freedom; if you don't have one, you don't have the other. I hear gunfire mulitple times a week near the Pure Station in south Newton. In the cramped neighborhood I live in, it's dangerous and noisy, not to mention, grossly inconsiderate. There is no valid argument to the contrary that isn't safe and thoughtful, although I already know the selfish and irresponsible will make them, (LOL, and of course the contrary). Tell that to the lady's family above who died, inside her home, when that stray bullet ended her life. An ounce of prevention...

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conyersgirl 1 year, 4 months ago

JUST who determines how much land would be considered hunting propery...100 acres,,,,50 acres....25 acres. That itself is not a valid argument, as there have been people wounded or killed on "Hunting Property" as you call it because of.....thats right CARELESS and IRRESPONSIBLE people. SO in your argument because a lady lost her life (and that is very tragic and sad and i pray for her family and any family that loses someone) lets make a law against discharging firearms. Why stop there....because someone was wounded or killed on 100 acre "Hunting Property" let make a law against discharging firearms on that also. Just like you cant legistate morality ....you cant legistate against stupidity and carelessness. It only hinders us repsonible and law abiding citizens...oh yeah and us selfish ones too.

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conyersgirl 1 year, 4 months ago

quoted from story " Only one person in a packed boardroom spoke in support of the ordinance". That right there should let our entire Commissioners and the Sheriff know that this so called keeping us safe ordinance is for the birds. Many are correct it only hurts small business and law abiding responsible gun owners and hunters. You all need to think very hard because i am sure i will not be the only one keeping track of who votes for what on this come the VERY NEXT ELECTION. AND when that time comes i will bring this matter up and do my dangest to make sure whomever voted for this will not be re-elected EVER!! Okay this is for MR Sims, i live in your district and have already made it known to you i do not like this ordinance. Today by looking at this map, i think my family lives right on the border of a white and green zone. We bought property in the back of a subdivision and eventually built a house there and there is a substantial portion of woods behind our house. My husband hunts deer back here and usually gets one deer a year sometimes two. he never tries for more than two because we are only 3 person family and that is enough to keep meat in the house until the next season. if this ordinance is passed it will effect his right to provide meat for our family. it will also prevent keeping the deer population down in this area which will probably cause more vehicle wrecks. of course that cannot be an exact given. i am sure many more famiies throughout newton will be effected in the same way.

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John 1 year, 3 months ago

He could go out to hunt deer at Charles Elliot to get the meat - deer ,trukey, rabbit, etc. - no lease required.

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Eyeball 1 year, 4 months ago

If conyersgirl spend more time working on her grammar instead of shooting her guns, maybe her writing skills would improve....It's amazing how people are so selfish!

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jimdavis 1 year, 4 months ago

The sheriff stated there is a problem in the western part of the county with people who do not abide by the law (law enforcement problem) the sheriff proposes to enact and ordnance the restricts the rights of all citizens of Newton county this somehow will make the people in the western part of the county abide by the law that they don't now ...somebody explain this to me I can't see how this will work!

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jwm1955 1 year, 4 months ago

If the sheriff would put more than one deputy riding around in the western part of the county, put two on that side riding around, control the crime in the western part, get rid of the drug dealers, get rid of the thugs, then the new gun control that the liberals want would not be needed.

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Bemused 1 year, 4 months ago

Do you honestly think for one second that the sheriff doesn't want to have more people patrolling the western side of the county?? Really? Because if that is what you honestly believe, you are a fool and I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. You don't want to pay anymore in taxes. Well boo hoo! That's where the money comes from to pay the deputies. You get what you pay for and since the Teaklan that was at this forum Monday night doesn't want to pay for anything, you get nothing!

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jwm1955 1 year, 4 months ago

Bemused, if other counties around Newton County can concentrate in one area of the county that has high crime do you not think that Newton County can do the same thing. And no I am not a fool, The elected officials have you brainwashed into believing their nonsense. The liberals have gotten into this county so bad till they have gotten people scared to speak up I for one will say that the lies that they pass on to you are sad. You cannot say that a county like Clayton, Rockdale, and other counties do not concentrate more on a high crime area. Like I said if more than one deputy was patrolling the west side then crime would be lower.

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Bemused 1 year, 4 months ago

Oh noes! Not the liberals! Honestly, I love how its always the liberals fault with your ilk. Show me a liberal that controls anything in this county and I'll show you a multi-colored unicorn that poops rainbows. No, just like on a national level, neo-conservative philosophies are what is doing this county in.

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Logical 1 year, 4 months ago

Perhaps you could enlighten me as to how the Sheriff's Dept will enforce the new ordinance if, as you suggest, they don't have enough deputies to enforce the existing laws? If lack of deputies, lack of funding is the issue, then that's what we need to address here in order to help the residents of the community. They do have legitimate concerns but the idiots breaking the old laws won't follow the new ones either. The whole idea of this ordinance is to placate the outraged citizens of one area of the county. It will do nothing to help the situation.

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Logical 1 year, 4 months ago

We're having the wrong discussion here. If you look at the white area on the map where the calls are being generated there is a direct correlation between the calls and the crime rate. This was confirmed by the Sheriff at the meeting. The discussion should be centered on what we can do to help the people of that area with their crime issues and the RECKLESS discharge of firearms in that area. They have legitimate concerns which need to be addressed. However, you cannot regulate stupidity. The existing laws need to be enforced. More laws only infringe on the rights of the rest of the citizens in the county. It is an infringement of the 2nd Amendment, plain and simple, and that cannot stand. We need some common sense here. If you had an area of the county where people were driving down a particular street at 100 mph and you wanted to remedy the situation by limiting the speed to 25 mph, would you limit the speed on the one street or would you arbitrarily and unreasonably set the speed limit at 25 mph for the whole county? It's exactly what they are trying to do with this ordinance. We need to be steadfast in our defence of the 2nd Amendment, whether or not we own firearms or want/need to use them.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

What really needs to happen here is this. The white area in the west needs to incorporate into their own city or cities (Salem and or Almon comes to mind) or be annexed by Covington or Porterdale. Then thet could make their own laws, have their own police force and taxaction system. This would solve this problem as well as many others in the County.

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Bemused 1 year, 4 months ago

The more I hear from you, the more I'm convinced that if you would just leave our county would be a lot better off.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

Not going nowhere just yet. But you could feel free to leave at any time. Truth hurts?

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Bemused 1 year, 4 months ago

As soon as you tell something true, then I'll be able to pass judgement on it. This little racist rant really takes the cake but it shows just what kind of man you really are.

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Eyeball 1 year, 4 months ago

According to the county attorney's office, the South River Gun Club is off limits due to a grandfather clause that was voted on by our commissioners. The SRGC is responsible for a number of these nuisance calls. I would like the Chairman and other commissioners explain this grandfather clause to the citizens. Who was involved in approving this clause? When was it established? How is it that the SRGC can operate 7 days a week, 365 days out of the year with no restrictions? Not only do they violate the noise ordinance, they jeopardize the safety of the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, Newton County Citizens have a right as tax paying citizens to feel safe and secure. Not all gun owners are responsible citizens. One death is one too many. Once that trigger is pulled, there is no point of return. People should be able to talk and discuss important issues without allowing their personal prejudices to prevail.

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Logical 1 year, 4 months ago

Sadly yes, one death is too many. However, I'm sure you drive a car. Do you feel your right to drive a car safely and within the existing laws should be infringed upon because some drunk or reckless idiot caused an accident? I think not. There are always unintended consequences to even the best intentioned laws - having your Constitutinal rights stripped bit by bit is one of those consequences. If you're not fed up with the erosion of your rights you're either naive or one of the uninformed or ill-informed. I very much doubt that the SRGC is allowed to operate without the proper precautions for safety, but I will research it. I am interested in knowing which was built first - the house where you reside, or the SRGC?

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comensense1234 1 year, 4 months ago

First of all Sheriff Brown is working hard to solve the crime problem in Newton County. The Deputies I know have had no raise, no over time pay, employee retention a problem and higher cost of insurance. Not many people will put thier lives on the line for that. So if your not seeing a Patrol Car in your neighborhood dont blame the man. The idea of extending the distance of 350 yrds seems resonable if there is exemption's for hunting and ligitimate safe target shooting. But the thuggs and crime rate on one side of the county should not dictate the laws on the otherside of the county. Out of the volume of calls received on this issue how many times has the violater been contacted and cited for shooting within the 100 yrd ordinance? Why not two seperate ordinances?

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

@Bemused- Since you choose to call me a racist in your reply to one of my comments please back it up with facts. When you call someone a racist in a public posting like this should at least be prepared to backup your claims

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Logical 1 year, 4 months ago

When one has no facts or logic to back up their argument, it can resort to name calling and the race card being played. Sorry you were targeted. We should all be above it. We're all residents of the county. Perhaps we could work together to help solve the issues of the westerly area without the infringement of our 2nd Amendment rights. I wouldn't want to live somewhere where I felt threatened.

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Logical 1 year, 4 months ago

I find it disturbing that although it's been announced that a 'citizen's committee' has been formed to draft the gun ordinance, we are being kept in the dark regarding who those committee members are, where they are meeting, or when they are meeting. It is ludicrous that they are meeting at all. This should never have hit the floor. This is a maneuver to appease the populace of the subject area out of desperation because they can't come up with a viable solution. It is strictly a political move on the part of the Sheriff and 'some' of our Commissioners. Please, could we just call a spade a spade and deal with the real issue?

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jimdavis 1 year, 4 months ago

the committee members posted Monday at the meeting were Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox

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jimdavis 1 year, 4 months ago

the chairman appointed Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox to be on the committee

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jimdavis 1 year, 4 months ago

Logical I agree with you as I have posted the two committee members names twice and they have been removed I wonder why?

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