Sheriff Ezell Brown wants to update the county’s ordinance which regulates discharging firearms due to an increasing number of residents and safety concerns.
Brown attended the Newton County Board of Commissioners retreat last weekend where he discussed the recommended changes that needed to be made to the county’s discharge of a firearm ordinance, which Brown said hasn’t been reviewed since 2006.
The current ordinance allows individuals to discharge firearms within 100 yards of an occupied building or across the land of another without written permission. Prior to 2006, the ordinance restricted the discharge of a firearm to within 350 yards of any residence, place or public assemble, place of worship, business or roadway.
"The Newton County Sheriff’s Office is recommending that we return to the more stringent rules prior to 2006," Brown said Thursday.
Brown is proposing prohibiting 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 he noted was the standard in effect prior to 2006.
According to background information gathered by Brown, there has been a large call volume of calls concerning firearm discharge in residential areas over the last couple of years. In 2011, there were 616 calls and in 2012, there were 714 calls. As of Feb. 7, there have been 80 calls.
"At today’s call volume, I know we will easily surpass 1,000 by the end of the year," Brown said.
Brown added that projectiles leaving the property have become a safety concern. He referenced a fatality that occurred about five years ago and said there have been an ongoing amount of injuries. He also cited the increase in population as a need for the changes to the ordinance.
"We have had one fatality and several injuries as a result of discharging firearms," said Brown. "We’ve also encountered property damage. In several areas, we have had firearms discharged in subdivisions overlooking another subdivision and by that we’ve had projectiles to strike the roof and also to penetrate residents of others."
"This is a public safety concern and it is directly linked to our increased population and I think it will be appropriate if we would show the rise and the growth," Brown said. "We had 62,000 citizens here in 2000, to 85,000 in 2006 and today, we have more than 100,000. Our population growth expanded, but it did not expand to 272 miles a square mile radius of the county. Therefore we have a lot more residents living in the same area."
Under the proposed ordinance, discharge of firearms will be prohibited within 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; CG — general commercial; M1— light industrial and M2 — heavy industrial.
Within all other zoning districts such as agricultural and agricultural residential, discharge of firearms would be allowed only with adequate protection in the form of a backstop and proper field of fire arranged to prevent any danger to neighboring property or persons. Backstop regulations would be 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 will continue to prohibit the discharge of a firearm into a dwelling, house, railroad, train, boat, aircraft, motor vehicle, or building used for assembling people; and at any motor vehicle, at any person, at any other motor vehicle, and at any building or habitable structure.
Exemptions for the discharge of a firearms for federal, military, state, county, and municipal law enforcement peace officers possessing the duty and power of arrest; any person lawfully exercising the destruction of dangerous animals or for lawful nuisance wildlife abatement; in connection with the discharge of blank cartridges for theatrical purposes, signal purposes, military exercises, or funerals or memorial events; any citizen lawfully defending person or property; and any citizen or legal entity engaged in the lawful use or legal nonconforming use at any private or commercial port shooting range will also stay in place.
Hunting regulated by the and conducted in accordance with state law has also been added under exemptions.
Brown will present the ordinance at the next BOC meeting on March 15. He said due to the fact of there being fatalities and injuries that have already happened, he believes it’s time to take a closer look at the ordinance.
"I believe that it is our responsibility to protect the citizens of this county," Brown said. "Should we ask ourselves, ‘Should we wait for another citizen to be killed? Do we continue to place our deputies in harm’s way?’ I think we need to take a proactive stand and improve the law governing this dangerous practice."