Newton County has new laws on where people are allowed to fire guns recreationally.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a revised version of the county’s “discharge of firearms” ordinance, which makes multiple changes to the current law by specifying further where people can shoot recreationally. Another major change is that hunting will no longer be regulated by local laws, but will only be subject to state laws and regulations.
Commissioner John Douglas was the lone vote against, saying that he doesn’t believe the new law is any more enforceable than the old one.
The idea of a revised gun-firing ordinance was initially proposed by Sheriff Ezell Brown earlier this year based on the growing number of 911 calls reporting a gun being fired; there were 1,330 such calls during the 2011 and 2012 calendar years, with the numbers continually trending upward, including in 2013 to date.
The new ordinance restricts the recreational firing of guns – namely target practice – on properties smaller than 2 acres, and keeps the previous 100-yard restriction for buildings and roads; the ordinance does relax the 100-yard restriction so that it does not apply to a shooter’s own property.
Restrictions do not apply to BB guns or air guns, as the ordinance defines a firearm specifically as weapons that “expel a projectile” by “an explosive or electrical charge.”
The ordinance also outlaws recreational night shooting, restricting it between 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
The ordinance also imposes new penalties, which call for a first-time convicted offender to face a fine of $500 to $1,000 and 30 to 120 days of jail time. Anyone convicted multiple times would face a fine of $1,000 and 90 to 120 days of jail time for each conviction. Carter said the initial sentence of jail time could often be reduced to probation, so that jail time would only be served if probation was violated.
The ordinance was created by a group of active citizens along with county commissioners Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox and Maj. Morris Jones of the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, who sought to find a middle ground between public safety concerns and the rights of responsible gun owners. The committee recommended the new ordinance be accompanied by a public education campaign.
Nine citizens spoke about the ordinance during public comments, voicing a variety of concerns. Some felt even the law in effect prior to Tuesday night was too stringent and should be repealed so only state law applied, saying it was up to gun owners to be responsible.
A resident of the Ellington subdivision in western Newton County supported the law and said she felt people who fired unlawfully should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. Another man said BB guns and air rifles should not be exempt under the new law, because they can hurt or even kill someone. He also said he didn’t believe any law enforcement officers, particularly, when off-duty, should be allowed to fire a gun any place at any time.
Commissioner Douglas echoed that last point and took issue with the exemption that gives “all federal, military, state, county, and municipal law enforcement peace officers possessing the duty and power of arrest whether such officers are within or outside their jurisdictions or on or off duty, or any person summoned by such officers to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace” the right to shoot anywhere at any time.
He wanted to make a motion to alter that language, but the board decided instead to direct the county attorney’s office to look into the issue.
Douglas did ask if anyone making a citizen’s arrest could also use his or her gun at any time, and attorney Jenny Carter said she had never seen state law interpreted to allow that.
Douglas also questioned why people needed written permission to shoot on a person’s property as opposed to just verbal permission.