Gun ordinance fails to pass before Stanly commissioners
At Monday’s meeting of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners, a proposed gun ordinance inspired by a recent shooting failed to get the unanimous vote needed to pass.
A unanimous vote was required to pass the ordinance but a motion was defeated by a 5-2 margin. Vice Chairman Gene McIntyre and Commissioner Ashley Morgan voted for the ordinance while Chairman Joseph Burleson and commissioners Bill Lawhon, Scott Efird, Matthew Swain and Jann Lowder voted against it.
The ordinance, spearheaded by Morgan, came in response to the death of Dwight Almond. On April 27, Almond, 63, was killed by a stray bullet from target shooters in the Millingport community while sitting in his garage.
Members of Almond’s family spoke to the board recently during a public comments session to ask the commissioners to enact protections for people from target shooting.
County Manager Andy Lucas said the county’s staff at the behest of the commissioners contacted the National Rifle Association to draft a firearm safety ordinance.
In the language of the proposed ordinance, it would be unlawful to discharge a firearm under certain conditions on a person’s own property. Those conditions included ensuring that “a projectile does not cross onto the property of another without the written consent of the owner, lessee, or possessor of the property.”
Other conditions included “without taking reasonable care and in a manner so as to endanger any person or property resulting in the unlawful property damage or bodily injury of another.” It would also have been illegal to discharge a firearm “on, from, or across the traveled portion of any public street or highway.”
Exceptions in the ordinance would have been for law enforcement in the performance of their duties, self defense or for hunters. The fine was $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $500 for the third or more offense. The ordinance would be superseded if applicable local, state and federal laws were in conflict with it adding “the more restrictive or that imposing the higher standards will govern.”
A public hearing was conducted before the vote on the ordinance, though Lucas noted it was not required but the board wanted to hear public opinion on the proposal.
Tommy Jordan, a Republican candidate for the Board of Commissioners in the November election, spoke first in the public hearing.
He said he was firmly against the ordinance, but once the bill was “flushed out” more and “had more teeth,” he said his opinion changed and he would like to support the ordinance.
“I don’t think it restricts the rights of gun owners, which is a good thing. I’m a gun owner, I’m a hunter, I teach guns, which is good,” Jordan said.
However, he felt the ordinance needed more “flushing out,” mentioning other counties which have similar ordinances. Stanly’s proposed ordinance did not have anything in it regarding shooting ranges or military uses.
“If we create it, we have to stand behind it,” Jordan said, asking if officers or the county could be held liable for accidental deaths.
Regarding the fines, Jordan said North Carolina statue states the maximum fine for a Class 3 misdemeanor is $200 and 20 days in jail.
“If we want to stop people from getting hurt and people being careless, we need some teeth to this ordinance,” Jordan said. But, he said the misdemeanor could not be enacted until a person was cited five times by the ordinance.
He also noted the ordinance came 22 days before the general election as well as 13 days before beginning of hunting season with guns. With the upcoming election of a new sheriff, that individual would not be able to provide input on it before the election.
“I’m not saying its a bad idea; I just don’t think we have all the answers yet,” Jordan said. “I think Commissioner Morgan is doing it for the right reasons. I hope you vote to table it and bring it back.”
Jill Drye and her neighbor, Karen Lowder, spoke next, saying they have concerns for their safety at their residences near Mann Road just off Old Salisbury Road. One individual shoots near both of their properties, Drye said, adding the noise of the shooting forced another neighbor to sell her home and move.
Drye said the shooting goes into the back of property owned by herself and her brothers along with the Lowder property as well.
“We don’t know what direction the shooter is shooting in. We have had deputies out there who said he was shooting safely, but there is no berm to protect,” Drye said. She added her son hunts on the property with her permission, but she is afraid for his safety as well.
“It seems to have gotten out of hand. I have lived there 35 years…there seems to be no safety measure for those of us who are property owners and would like to enjoy our property.”
“I do not have issues with people owning guns. We own guns; I believe it’s a God-given right. I want them for my protection, but i don’t want someone living next door disrupting our quality of life,” Lowder said.
Chris Almond, the son of the late Dwight Almond, was the final speaker in the public comments. He said he lost his father “largely due to individuals carelessly firing weapons.”
Almond said the shot which killed his father came from only 105 yards away. He added it was not the first time shots had come that direction, but he should have never lost his father that way.
“That can’t happen. It shouldn’t happen; it should never have happened and it wasn’t the first time. It happens all the time,” Almond said.
Almond’s son served for 20 years in the Navy and was a range safety officer for 10 years, and said the Navy has protections in place.
While agreeing with Jordan the ordinance needs more “beef in it,” Almond said if the proposed ordinance had been in place, “somebody would have been held accountable for it at this time.”
Morgan said the process of passing the ordinance would not be quick and easy, and he contacted the NRA to get the wording right, working with its legal research team.
While saying the ordinance does not have enough teeth, he said “given the powers we have, this is the best we can do. Would I like more? Yes…I’m as pro-gun as they come, however, I don’t want this to infringe on anyone’s gun rights or take anything away. This ordinance does neither…why you would be against this, I cannot say. This holds irresponsibility accountable.
“We’re not taking your guns away; we’re not infringing on your rights…just keep your bullets on your property,” Morgan said.
Vice Chairman Gene McIntyre asked if the ordinance was approved, would the board be able to revisit it and make changes, to which Lucas said wording could be changed but a public hearing would have to occur first.
McIntyre added it “would be prudent for us to pass this tonight. If things come up later that need to be changed, it would be appropriate to have that done.”
Lawhon asked about the investigation of the Almond incident, to which Morgan said if the ordinance had been in place beforehand, the two suspects could be charged under the ordinance.
Burleson asked the board’s counsel, Jenny Furr, if an investigation was still ongoing, to which she said pending investigations would be kept confidential.
Lawhon asked if the persons are still shooting in the area, to which Chris Almond said the two individuals may not be shooting but persons in another home close 300 yards behind his father’s house are still shooting. Almond also said persons living on Austin Road contacted him about people shooting saying it “sounded like a war zone” and that shooting went late into the night around 10:30 or 11 p.m. He also said his family has found two other bullet holes on the property.
Swain said he made a request to the local district attorney, who said the investigation is ongoing and the DA’s office has not received evidence back from the state. “It’s definitely not a closed case.”
Regarding the ordinance, Swain said he did a request to Harnett, Orange and Mecklenburg counties regarding their ordinances having ever been challenged, to which the county attorney was told they had not. However, in two counties, Swain said, the ordinance had never been utilized (Harnett and Mecklenburg). Orange may have given two or three citations.
“I do not support this ordinance…I think it’s good and needed, but I don’t support it tonight,” Swain said. He later added “my big problem with it is the liability side of who defines reasonable. If we’re going to do something, we need to say something is illegal.”
Swain said the ordinance puts a lot of responsibility on law enforcement and some ambiguity needs to be taken out of it. He supported adding to the ordinance to be illegal to shoot firearms while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“It’s not ready to be put out to the public,” Swain said.
Lowder said she supported a safety ordinance for the discharge of firearms but cited an example of how long it took to draft another ordinance. She said an animal control ordinance started work in 2012 and was ratified in 2013 when the board of commissioners had changed.
Lowder said that particular product “was more effective, had more enforcement and its primary objective was met to protect the citizens and property.” She felt more work was needed on the ordinance while also “giving the citizens a chance to come back again” to give input on it.
McIntyre made the motion to approve the ordinance, seconded by Morgan. Before the vote, Lawhon said the ordinance needed more work, “dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s.”
Morgan responded saying “the only other thing is, I understand the liability issue, with any ordinance, there is always some kind of liability. It doesn’t matter how you cut or slice it.”
After the vote failed, Swain asked if the board could set a time to revisit the issue. Burleson stated the ordinance could be passed at the next scheduled meeting or within 100 days of the original motion by a majority of the board.
Swain made a motion to direct the county staff to continue to work with the proper authorities involved “and move forward with this ordinance at a later date.” Lowder asked if Swain meant members of law enforcement along with members of the public, including Chris Almond, to work on the project. The motion passed 7-0.
The Board also:
- approved a Community Transportation Application for $541,275 with a local match of $65,892. Of that number, $235,239 will go for salaries and benefits for three full-time and one part-time staff members along with vehicle insurance, drug testing and daily office operations. The remaining $306,036 will go to replace four vehicles: two raised roof vans, one minivan and one LTV, along with video surveillance of the vehicles, updated software and replacement and resurfacing the parking lot on the west side of the Stanly Commons.
- approved a senior services application for North Carolina DOT grant for the 2019-20 fiscal year for expanded services in the amount of $60,000. The funds will go to a contract with SCUSA for transportation services.
- passed the consent agenda including tax refunds for September 2018.