County enacts shooting range ordinance

The Vance County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to enact a shooting range ordinance.

The vote came soon after a second public hearing on the proposed law ended yesterday evening during the commissions’ regular monthly meeting.

The ordinance passed with two important changes.

Commissioner Deborah Brown introduced the first change when she moved to enact the ordinance. That change replaced references to “1/4 mile” in the ordinance with “1/2 mile”, doubling the distance a shooting range must be from a residence.

The other change was grafted to Brown’s motion as a friendly amendment by County Commission Chair Danny Wright to the effect that no shooting would take place on Sundays.

Danny Wright said that residents should have one day a week when they can have a respite from gunfire.

Before the ordinance was approved, Commissioner Scott Hughes moved that the ordinance should be sent back to the Planning & Environmental Committee with a report back to the board anticipated by November’s regular commission meeting. Danny Wright noted that such a time frame would fall within the moratorium against shooting ranges enacted by the commission late last month. Hughes argued that unanswered questions about shooting on private property and private gun clubs needed to be addressed. Those issues had been raised by concerned citizens a few minutes earlier during the public hearing on the ordinance.

Member Dan Brummitt also argued for a delay in voting on the proposed law, saying that a lot of issues had been raised when the item was in committee that needed to be addressed to “get the ordinance right”.

Brown disagreed, saying that the board could make amendments as it sees fit.

County Attorney Jonathan Care noted that the same procedure would have to be followed to make amendments as had been following in generating the ordinance itself, i.e., two public hearings would have to be held.

Brown went on to say that the commission will never get any ordinance 100%.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” Brown said.

Hughes motion failed in a 4-3 vote, with only Brummitt, Hughes, and Danny Wright voting in favor of sending the proposed ordinance back to committee.

Before the second vote on Brown’s motion in which the ordinance was approved, Hughes asked for “statistical reasoning” for setting the distance between ranges and residences to 1/2 mile from 1/4 mile. Brummitt questioned the 1/2 mile limit as well, stating that the county may have a problem enforcing the 1/2 mile limit since it is outside of precedent.

National Rifle Association (NRA) guidelines, a commonly accepted standard for the construction and administration of firing ranges recommends 1/4 mile buffers.

Brummitt also stated that a surface danger zone calculation should be included in the ordinance. He also pointed out that some typos and uses of the phrase “and/or” could impede enforcement.

“Surface danger zone” refers to the possible field of fire outside of containing berms should the berms fail to contain the discharged round. This area increases and decreases based on the type and power of the firearm used.

Care told members that he was not comfortable with the legal basis of the 1/2 mile distance.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” Brown rejoined strongly. In her reply to Care, Brown reasoned that because Vance is a small county, it needs more buffer between shooting ranges and residences. She argued that larger counties could have a 1/4 mile buffer because they have more room for residential areas.

When the vote was taken, only Brummitt and Hughes voted against the proposal becoming law.

Before the commissioner’s discussion of the issue and the final vote, six residents spoke on the subject of the shooting range ordinance.

Rev. Jonathan Sharrod, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Christian Church read a resolution from church officers in support of the shooting range ordinance.

John Price, a resident of Glebe Road who has spearheaded the effort against a shooting range at that location, told the board several stories about problems in other residential areas where shooting ranges are located nearby.

Kim Tyler of the Roanoke River Basin Association submitted to the board a letter of resolution from her organization finding the proposed ordinance “congruent with our mission”.

Vance resident Joe Sears told members that he wants to see something in place for the ordinance’s “unintended consequences”. He said that he needs clarification on what he can do on his land “without becoming a private range”. He also asked who would insure that NRA guidelines are followed.

Tim McAllister told members that he understands regulating. He also said that he hoped the range would come to Vance County.

McAllister noted that the last business he saw in the paper that had been endorsed by the Economic Development Commission has not opened, and further noted that it had access to grant money. He compared that situation to that of Eagle 1, which had planned to build its shooting range with its own capital.

The local radio personality and erstwhile politician went on to say that the commission should regulate all shooting in the county, including hunting and backyard shooting.

Resident Bob Kemp told members that there has been a gun club in Bobbitt since 1979, a private club that is just for stockholders. He wanted to know if his club “would get caught up in this” and if it would come under the same regulations as a business.

Danny Wright responded that the matter was still under debate and that the commission did not know exactly how it would be crafted, a statement which proved a few minutes later to be erroneous.