LAURINBURG – A debate over a possible gun ordinance turned contentious between a board member and the sheriff at this week’s Scotland County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Sheriff Ralph Kersey asked the county to impose a law regulating how and where guns can be fired in the county.
The first proposal restricted firing a weapon within 500 feet of the property line of land containing houses, churches, schools or other occupied buildings or that shooters have an adequate backstop such as enough distance or a dirt berm to stop bullets and forbade shooting by anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The law would not apply to legal hunters or permitted firing ranges.
The county sent the idea to the policy committee that requested the sheriff decrease the distances and craft a new ordinance.
The current proposal restricts the distance to 200 feet of an occupied school, daycare, or church and 100 feet of a residence, occupied building or livestock. It keeps the alcohol and drug restriction and recommendations for a backstop.
Kersey told the board that the problem of reckless shooters was not widespread, but restricted to a handful of “bad actors.”
“The reason we first looked at some type of gun ordinance is for one purpose,” Kersey said. “There is only a small amount of citizens in Scotland County that will not adhere to asking them to not fire their firearms in their when there’s kids outside playing.”
The sheriff told the board that one home had been reported 13 times a two-day span because the owner was shooting a large-caliber rifle near homes in front of and behind him, and five times on one day in January. The man was asked to shoot in a safer area but would not comply. Kersey said there is currently no way to force those who regularly shoot in the vicinity of occupied buildings into compliance.
“Give us something that when we go to somebody’s house, we can stop those from firing because what’s going to happen is somebody’s going to get killed – a child – and somebody’s going to be held accountable for it. Surely, I don’t want it to be me,” Kersey told the board. “It only concerns a few people and those are the ones we’ve been dealing with for years. This is not about us riding around seeing who we can find standing on the back porch shooting.”
Commissioner John Alford was behind the ordinance saying it is “important” to give Kersey the “tools to work with.”
Commissioner Bob Davis, who expressed earlier dissatisfaction with proposed ordinance, requested that action be delayed until it this month’s board retreat.
“I’d like to see us put it off until our planning session,” Davis said. “I’ve had 25, 30, 40 people call, stop me on the street about this firearms ordinance. I’m not saying it’s not the thing to do. I’d just like more information.”
A frustrated Kersey said that he had received calls too.
“Mr. Davis had 30 or 35 calls. I’ve had hundreds, and those hundreds have said, ‘You’ve lost my support.’ That’s not important. What is important is we stop people from firing at [a resident’s] house, and I don’t have to go out there and pick a kid up because he’s been shot. We’re talking about people’s life. We are not talking about votes,” Kersey said.
Davis insisted that he was concerned about the rights of residents, not politics, but Kersey cut him off.
“Yes you are Mr. Davis … yes you are sir. You’re talking about votes,” Kersey said before abruptly leaving the meeting. The sheriff’s retort drew rousing applause from the audience.
Davis is not up for re-election until 2020.
The proposal will have to go through a public hearing process for feedback from the community before the board can make a final vote.
A first reading and public hearing is set for the March’s board meeting, and a second hearing is set for the April meeting.
The board also heard a presentation from the Scotland County Reentry Council concerning its work on behalf of inmates reentering civilian life.
Several speakers updated the board on the work the council does in the hope of reducing crime and recidivism and asked the board to consider offering financial support when it plans the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The program helps inmates returning home find housing, healthcare and mental health care, clothing, jobs and other necessities that often keep those with a criminal history from re-offending. The council projects that between 2018 and 2020 107 people will return to Scotland County from state and federal prisons.
In other business the commissioners also updated the workplace violence, confidentiality and harassment policies to include federal guidelines.
A new policy on social media use for county employees was tabled pending clarification of whether or not county departments should be able to promote fund-raising campaigns on their social media platforms and what if any campaigns such as United Way would be acceptable given that the county partners with some non-profits.
Parks and Recreation Director Brian Graham presented a check to Noran Sanford of Growing Change for $12,700 for its share of the proceeds from the Insanitorium Haunted Prison tour.
The Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce received a check for $3,500. The tour raised more than $40,000 for Parks and Recreation and local non-profits, according to Graham.
Parks and Recreation plans to use part of the proceeds for a batting cage.
The board also set a date to begin advertising tax liens for past due taxes. Advertisements for $2.48 million in outstanding taxes will begin on Mar. 12.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169