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Gun ordinance on Tuesday's agenda
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The newly-created gun-firing ordinance could be voted on by the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday as county officials seek a resolution to the issue of recreational shooting, which has stirred strong emotions on both sides.

The proposed ordinance was drafted by a citizens committee seeking a middle ground and tweaks the current law by outlawing recreational shooting — namely target practice — on properties smaller than 2 acres, within 100 yards of a residence, public building or road, and at night. Hunting would be exempted from any local restrictions and would only be subject to existing state regulations.

The board will discuss the revised draft ordinance at a 6:30 p.m. work session. Depending on the length of the board’s discussion, Chairman Keith Ellis said he will try to allow 10 minutes for public discussion. In addition, there are public comments at the beginning of the regular 7 p.m. board meeting; citizens can sign up to speak and have three minutes to address any topic of their choosing.

"I do not have a feel for how many will be present. I have only had two citizens come by the office to offer comments," said Ellis, who added that the only recommendation was to clear up some wording, which was done.

The draft was created by a group of active citizens along with county commissioners Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox and Maj. Morris Jones with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. The committee sought to find a middle ground between public safety concerns and the rights of responsible gun owners.

Spurred on by growing 911 calls related to the firing of guns — a total of 1,330 in 2011 and 2012 — Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown earlier this year proposed restricting where guns could be fired recreationally.

The sheriff’s proposal called for recreational shooting to be outlawed in every zoning area besides agricultural, agricultural residential and rural estate, a restriction many felt was much too broad.

The committee did away with zoning-based limits and used a minimum 2-acre lot size restriction instead, as well as keeping the current 100-yard restriction for buildings and roads; it relaxed the 100-yard restriction so that it does not apply to a shooter’s own property.

Reaction from county commissioners was mixed, with District 1 Commissioner John Douglas continuing to express his concern that a revised ordinance is unneeded and won’t reduce crime or 911 calls.

There also have been some questions about the newly proposed 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.