COVINGTON - County commissioners approved an ordinance regulating discharge of firearms Tuesday night by a vote of 4 to 1. District 1 Commissioner John Douglas was the lone dissenter.
The ordinance approved is the draft previously publicized, recommended by a citizen's committee that met to focus on public safety and, members have said, give the sheriff an ordinance with some teeth in it while still protecting property owners.
The ordinance defines firearms as "any handgun, rifle, shotgun, or other weapon that is designed to, or may readily be converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or electrical charge." BB guns, air guns, pellet rifles or similar guns that fire projectiles by means of compressed air or other gas are not considered firearms.
Discharge of firearms is now prohibited on property less than 2 acres, except in the case of exemptions such as hunting, protecting person or property, destruction of dangerous animals or for lawful nuisance wildlife abatement, for law enforcement and military, at shooting ranges or discharge of blank cartridges for theatrical purposes and signals at sporting events, military exercises, funerals etc.
The ordinance also prohibits discharging firearms within 100 yards of any residence, not to include the residence of the individual discharging the firearm; place of public assembly or worship; business or roadway.
Shooting is prohibited from one half hour after sunset until one half hour before sunrise, with the exception of night hunting. Hunters must comply with state and Department of Natural Resources regulations. Hunting on another person's property is allowed with written permission.
Douglas raised a concern about language in the ordinance that exempts law enforcement officers that possess power of arrest whether on or off duty, or inside or outside jurisdiction. It also exempts any person summoned by such officers to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while actually assisting such officers, or any other person otherwise authorized by Georgia statute.
Douglas said state law allows citizen's arrest, so the whole county would be exempt. Jenny Carter with the County Attorney's Office said such language has never been interpreted that way. The thinking is that law enforcement could be called into the line of duty at any time, she said. Following the ordinance's approval, Douglas made a second motion to reframe the language to state that law enforcement must be in the line of duty, not just possessing law enforcement credentials, to be exempt.
Chairman Keith Ellis said that would require an agenda amendment and suggested the board ask the County Attorney's Office to look into the matter and report to the board at a later time. Commissioners agreed.