On Monday, Dec. 5, the Board of Orange County Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a proposal regarding recreational shooting regulations, as recommended by an ad hoc firearm safety committee made up of local citizens. Several public officials assisted the committee as well.
For some, the dropping of a pivotal noise ordinance meant the resolution didn’t go far enough. For others, there was no reason to have formed the committee in the first place, as they cited statistics showed there were not a great deal of issues stemming from recreational shooting.
The commissioners did leave the door open for a potential noise ordinance in the future that would curb late night or “sustained” shooting, though the firearm safety committee had been hung up on how to define “sustained” and the commissioners recognized that as a potential future challenge as well.
To some degree, this discussion began in February 2016, when a Board of Orange County Commissioners meeting was overwhelmed with citizens wanting to voice their opinions on the potential adoption of recommended recreational shooting regulations, stemming from a civil suit in southern Orange County.
Instead of passing those measures, the Board voted at that meeting to assemble a firearm safety committee that would help come up with some sensible and enforceable restrictions on discharging a firearm on private property.
Chief Jamison Sykes of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who along with Game Warden Forest Orr functioned as one of two law enforcement liaisons to the committee, said that his outfit had no dog in the fight when it comes to regulations, but that they were hoping for something reasonable, fair, and easy to enforce. He felt that, for the most part, the committee was able to accomplish that.
On Monday, county attorney John Roberts presented what the committee had come up with, which was broken down into three new regulations:
1. A shooter’s discharge should not stray from their own property, unless they have written permission from a neighboring landowner
2. It is now unlawful to shoot after consuming alcohol or any other intoxicating substance
3. Shooters should maintain some kind of berm behind a target
All were things that were not previously enforceable by law enforcement in Orange County. 911 calls related to noise stemming from recreational shooting will continue to be something officers will not be able to do anything about.
For recreational shooters and committee members like Vince Tesoro, the original proposed berm regulations and acreage surrounding a shooter were particular points of contention in February’s proposal, as neither seemed reasonable.
“It seemed to basically be a way to make sure firearm discharge ceased in the county,” Tesoro said.
Tesoro summed up his time spent on the committee by saying he found most people had a lot more in common than they did not.
“At the end of the day, it seems that there are 98 percent of us who are on the same page when it comes to firearm safety,” Tesoro said. “In that other 2 percent, there are those who are not reasonable gun owners, or those who don’t want anyone to ever fire a gun. It seems that due to that small minority of people, the rest of us are suffering.”
That firearm transgressions are the exception and not the rule was voiced by most who spoke against new restrictions during the public speaking portion of the Dec. 5 meeting, with the second amendment being cited by several who felt their rights were being infringed upon. At the same time, speakers who were calling for the commissioners to adopt the committee's proposal had thoughts on the second amendment as well.
“There is no question that the right to bear arms is constitutional, but nowhere does the Constitution say you have the right to fire it off any time and place you care to,” Rollin Russell said. “As a matter of fact, cities, towns, and states have regulated [for some time] where guns can be fired, and for what purposes.”
According to commissioners Barry Jacobs and Earl McKee, who both worked directly with the firearm safety committee, the noise ordinance was just about the only place the committee failed to reach a consensus.
“I thought the group was very amicable despite some deep differences that they had,” Jacobs said. “People tried very hard to understand other positions, which you don’t always see at meetings like that… they tried to accommodate each others views when they could and work toward a consensus… and the only place that broke down was in talking about noise.”
The commissioners left the door open for future noise ordinances that they might draft as a group. McKee said this is an issue that will become increasingly important as the population in Orange County continues to rise, and spread out.
“I don’t think there’s any question of the Constitutional right to own a gun, but I think it should be done respectfully, and respectful of one’s neighbors,” McKee said. “Had I shot a gun in the manner that some people are doing, when I was a child, there wouldn’t have been an issue, because my father would have taken care of it. That would’ve been the end of that. But that’s not the case now. This county is moving from a predominantly rural county, to having residential developments all throughout it, so this is going to be a continuing issue.”
Commissioner Mia Burroughs was pleased with the presentation that she saw at the meeting, and praised the non-partisan work that was accomplished. She also voiced concern with the noise ordinance having been taken out of the proposal.
“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t make progress on the noise [aspect],” Burroughs said. “I understand that was really tough, and I would like to say in maybe some amount of time that staff come back to us with a menu of options with pros and cons of all of them, capturing everything the committee thought of.”