County officials continue to work to find a compromise on a gun-firing ordinance that will satisfy hunters and sports shooters while giving the sheriff more support to crack down on unsafe firing in the county’s more densely-populated areas.
A nine-person committee met Thursday night to discuss the ordinance, which has been in the limelight since Sheriff Ezell Brown brought up a proposal to try to restrict the unsafe firing of guns for non-hunting purposes.
Because the committee is not an official county-appointed committee, the meeting was not publicized. The committee consists of county commissioners Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox, sheriff’s Capt. Morris Jones and six, as of yet unnamed, citizens.
Maddox said he planned to present the citizens’ names to the Board of Commissioners at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. work session on the gun ordinance, which will be held at the Newton County Judicial Center Jury Impaneling Room, as opposed to the Historic Courthouse. Maddox said he also hopes to present some key points from the committee’s discussion as well as the process moving forward, without going into great detail about the discussion, which is still in preliminary stages.
Maddox said he envisioned the committee taking about 90 days to go through the issue before reaching a final conclusion to bring back before the board.
Both Maddox and Sims said the discussion was productive, varied and aimed at finding a solution to the issue of the large number of 911 calls reporting guns being fired, particularly in western Newton County neighborhoods.
There were a total of 1,330 calls to 911 reporting the firing of a firearm in the 2011 and 2012 calendar years.
The citizens on the committee were chosen based on their expertise and interest in the topic, and they represent various areas of the county as well as different interests, such as hunting and sport shooting.
Sims said one consensus seemed to be that a 350-yard buffer around structures and roads was too restrictive and that the current 100-yard buffer was reasonable.
“The biggest take away is we heard everybody at the forum the other night and that seemed to be the biggest thing everybody was talking about — the 350-yard limit. We looked at alternatives, maybe huge fines, or other things; we threw out a bunch of ideas,” Sims said.
According to an evaluation done by the county’s Geographic Information Systems department:
• A 100-yard buffer of all paved roads (not dirt roads) and structures larger than 400 square feet (to avoid sheds and other small buildings) covered 143 square miles of the county’s total of 279 square miles
• A 350-yard buffer covered 245 square miles.
At the time, the committee did agree that there was a safety concern and not just in western Newton County, Sims said.
The committee will continue to look at ways to find reasonable restrictions, whether that’s based on zoning, population density or some other measure.
Sims said the committee’s next step is to take some of its recommendations to the county attorney’s office to see if they would be legally feasible.
In addition, Sims said the committee wants to continue gathering input from the public, and he invited large groups, including civic clubs and homeowners’ associations, to reach out if they wanted to host a town hall or meeting to discuss ideas related to the ordinance.
Sims can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Maddox can be reached at email@example.com.
Sims and Maddox both agreed they would like to keep Tuesday’s 6 p.m. work session fairly brief so that the remaining time before their regularly scheduled 7 p.m. board meeting could be used as a meet-and-greet to discuss the issues.
To read more about the current and initially proposed gun-firing ordinances, visit CovNews.com.