,LAURINBURG — After some initial confusion about procedure, Scotland County officially has a gun safety ordinance.
After six months of discussion and several drafts, the Firearms Discharge Safety Ordinance passed by a vote of six to one at this week’s meeting of the Scotland County board with Commissioner Bob Davis opposed.
The confusion came following the vote about whether passage had to be unanimous to be legal.
On Thursday, County Manager Kevin Patterson confirmed that the vote stands.
“Since we had public hearings, it counted although we didn’t have a unanimous vote,” Patterson said. “If we didn’t have the public hearings, it would have to be a unanimous vote.”
Sheriff Ralph Kersey first proposed the measure in January after numerous complaints from residents about the way in which their neighbors were handling weapons in close proximity to other homes. Kersey found that there was no ordinance on the county’s books that he could use to regulate how people chose to discharge firearms in neighborhoods.
Kersey was represented at the meeting by his Chief Deputy Lloyd Goins who reviewed the measure with the board one last time.
“Since Sheriff Kersey took office in 2014, he’s had the mindset of being proactive, trying to stop things before it actually happens. Law enforcement, for so many years, has been reactive. What we’re trying to do is trying to stop someone from being injured,” Goins said.
He reiterated the problems that led to the proposal like neighbors shooting their legally owned guns, but doing so in a manner that sometimes recklessly endangers the lives and property of others nearby. Goins said the incidents are coming from people doing something they enjoy, but acting with disregard or ignorance that could see them accidentally kill someone and go to prison.
“We already have homes in the county that have bullet holes in them, but there’s nothing that can be done about it. We’re trying to stop this before something bad happens,” Goins said. “Week before last we had another homeowner here come forward and brought me a projectile that actually entered his home and ended up in the bedroom on the floor. There was no one home at the time, but what if a child had been in the bedroom playing?”
No resident spoke for or against the ordinance at the final hearing, but there was a debate among the commissioners over whether the measure should require a berm or whether it would be enforceable.
Davis received a letter from resident Craig Ferguson who claimed that the wording was too vague and would leave the sheriff’s office without legal legs on which to stand.
“His concern was that there is nothing that would confine projectiles the way it is in here [the ordinance] to the property owner’s property,” Davis said. “His statement was, he would hate to have to try to enforce this ordinance as it is written right now.”
Davis went on to say that he favored the ordinance, but that it needed to be written with stronger wording.
Commissioner Betty Blue Gholston said that the measure was a starting point giving the sheriff’s office something with which to work, and that if it proved too weak, the regulation could always strengthened in the future.
The basics of the ordinance say that a firearm cannot be discharged within 200 feet of a dwelling or other building or structure that is designed to be occupied by human beings; or with careless or wanton disregard for the safety of others. And must be used in a way that does not endanger other lives or property. Those under the influence of drugs or alcohol may not use a weapon.
Shooters must also take precautions to make sure that the projectiles are kept within the property from which they are shooting, unless they have written permission from nearby landowners. Shooting may not take place before dawn or after dusk, except in the case of hunting under wildlife laws, or on Sunday, except from 1 to 5 p.m.
Nine exemptions are spelled out in the ordinance including self-defense, permitted shooting ranges; historical, holiday, or ceremonial functions and protecting animals and property from dangerous and nuisance animals.
The full details of the ordinance can be reviewed on the county’s website scotlandcounty.org.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169