Several concerns are being raised about suggested revisions to the county’s firearms discharge ordinance and the Newton County Board of Commissioners has responded to the community’s anxieties about the proposed new ordinance.
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown presented the BOC with recommendations to the discharge of a firearm ordinance, which proposes to prohibit 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 public of worship, business, or roadway," which Brown said was the standard in effect prior to 2006.
The ordinance would prohibit the discharge of firearms within the R1, R2, R3, MSR, DR, RMF, MHP, MHS, OI, CN, CG, M1, and M2 zoning districts. However, within all other zoning districts, the discharge of firearms would be allowed only with adequate protection in the form of a backstop recommended by the sheriff’s department. Firearm discharge will be limited to between one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset.
The ordinance includes several exemptions to the proposed changes, one of the new exemptions added includes hunting regulated by and conducted in accordance with state law.
Several members of the BOC have said some of the proposed changes to the firearms ordinance have caused a number of concerns in the community. Commissioners have received a number of calls and have also had emails about the ordinance, which will be presented at the March 5 BOC meeting.
District 1 Commissioner John Douglas said he has had a lot of discussion about the proposed ordinance on his Facebook page. Douglas said he believed the timing for the ordinance was bad and that it was the first step in possible gun restrictions in the county.
"This is not something that we should be looking at right now," Douglas said. "Every journey starts with one step and I think this is a step towards tighter gun restrictions in Newton County."
"The proposal says that nobody could use a firearm within 350 yards of a resident, including their own residence. It says a residence, I assume that means their own residence and I’m not sure if a firearm includes a BB gun, a pellet rifle," Douglas said. "Another concern is that it has every possible zoning classification on there, except the agricultural zonings. And then it says if you shoot anywhere else besides those zonings that are listed, you have to have a sheriff’s approved backdrop. Well if I’m out hunting on an agricultural piece of land, how am I going to have a sheriff’s approved backdrop? There are other things too, but those are enough for right now.
"I think this is an overreach by the sheriff, it’s unnecessary and I’m opposed to it," Douglas said.
District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims said he doesn’t oppose what Brown is proposing, but he didn’t believe the ordinance was put out the right way. Sims said he stands firmly behind the Second Amendment, but he believed there were safety concerns associated with discharging firearms.
"In my two years as a commissioner, I have gotten several calls of people shooting more in residential type neighborhoods and the projectile actually hitting in their house. I know the sheriff’s hands have been tied in what they can do," Sims said. "It’s probably not a perfect ordinance and there are probably some things that need to be changed in it a little bit, but overall the safety of the citizens comes first and I’m behind it."
"As a commissioner, if I’m getting phone calls about guns being shot off or whatnot and hitting houses and I know the deputies can’t go do their job, I don’t want to tie the deputies’ hands where they can’t go out and do their job of protecting the citizens, Sims said.
"I know this is a very touchy subject with everybody and we are going to have to tread lightly on this one and make sure everybody knows really what this is going to do because I’m one who doesn’t want to infringe on the amendment."
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz also said the proposed ordinance is a safety concern, and not about limitations
"When I read the entire document that the sheriff presented to us with the exceptions, people are fine with it. But they didn’t understand the exceptions," Schulz said. "For example, there’s an exception if you run a sporting club. For example, Burge Plantation or the South River Gun Club, those are exempted. If you’re hunting following Georgia procedures, that’s exempted."
"There’s really not an infringement, we’re not trying to take people’s guns. We’re just trying to focus on gun safety. It’s not about limiting firearms at all."
District 4 Commissioner JC Henderson said there never is a good time to discuss guns, especially with a people wanting their rights to bear arms, which he said was a right people should have. However, he agreed the proposal dealt with the safety the county’s increasing population.
"When people are firing in their yards because we have a big population and there aren’t as many woods as there used to be, when they are shooting their strap, the metal from the guns would be flying over people’s homes and stuff and so people would call and complain," Henderson said. "What Sheriff Brown wants to do is to kind of address those concerns by tweaking the ordinance."
"If I lived out in the country and someone was shooting over my home I would probably call the sheriff’s department and I want somebody to ask them would they please stop because something could come through my house and hurt somebody.
"I think it’s reasonable and I think as our population grows we’ve got to kind of look at those concerns. So I support it," Henderson said.