Alamance County’s commissioners took their first shot at the precarious business of firearm regulation this week when they gave their provisional blessing to a new county ordinance that would criminalize errant gunfire onto a neighboring property.
The county’s governing board voted 5-to-0 in favor of this proposed ordinance on Monday – clearing the way for a second vote in May to solidify their decision. Under state law, these duplicative “readings” are required for the adoption of any local ordinance that carries some form of criminal sanction.
In this case, the county’s proposed ordinance would impose the prospect of a misdemeanor charge and a civil or criminal fine of $500 on anyone who willfully discharges a firearm onto a neighboring property without the landowner’s consent.
Although it wouldn’t apply to hunters or law enforcement officers, the county’s proposed ordinance could have an impact on many recreational shooters, including those who frequent the handful of commercial gun ranges that operate outside the county’s cities and towns.
According to Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens, the proposed regulations would take these individuals to task if they deliberately discharge their weapons at a neighboring property.
“In any instance where this ordinance would be applied, there has to be a willful intent to violate the ordinance,” Stevens assured the commissioners before Monday’s vote. “So, accidents are not going to be encompassed by this…And any business that operates with a reasonable degree of caution and advises the same to their customers is not going to have any trouble coming into compliance with the ordinance.”
It’s the alleged lack of caution by one particular gun range on Burlington’s northern perimeter that originally prompted the county’s leaders to consider this unprecedented set of restrictions on firearm use.
Known as RAD Range Training and Event Center, this firearm-themed venue along Jim Barnwell Road initially drew noise complaints from neighboring residents shortly after its opening salvo in 2021. Although these noise-related cavils didn’t get much traction with county officials, the county’s leaders proved more sympathetic to other grievances that RAD’s critics raised about the stray gunfire that has reportedly terrorized surrounding property owners.
Last month, the county’s board of commissioners directed Stevens to rough out an ordinance that would address errant gunfire from RAD and other outdoor shooting ranges outside the county’s cities and towns. The county attorney returned earlier this month with a proposed set of restrictions that he hoped would give the local sheriff’s office the wherewithal to deal with the issue. His draft nevertheless raised the hackles of firearm enthusiasts, including RAD’s proprietor Rudy Cartassi, who had previously made an unsuccessful bid for the board of commissioners in response to the original outcry against his business in the spring of 2022.
The commissioners ordered Stevens to amend his original draft of the ordinance in response to the objections that Cartassi and others had raised. In the meantime, Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson brokered a deal with the gun range’s owner that compelled him not only to accept whatever rules the county imposed but also to suspend his operations on Sunday mornings, allaying one of the more persistent gripes that his critics had raised.
During a public comment period that preceded Monday’s decision, Cartassi reiterated his earlier pact with the sheriff – albeit with some reluctance in light of the Sunday morning operations of other area gun ranges.
“I will honor our arrangement with sheriff and not open until noon on Sundays,” the gun range’s owner assured the county’s governing board. “But I want to point out the unfair advantage that my direct competitors will have against RAD.”
There was no mention of Sunday operations in the revised ordinance that Stevens ultimately pitched to the commissioners. Instead, the county attorney’s proposal zeroed in strictly on the threats to safety and security posed by erratic gunfire.
At the behest of the commissioners, Stevens had stricken some text from his original ordinance that would’ve required gun ranges to construct backstops to keep stray rounds from reaching neighboring property. Instead, the final version merely forbids gunfire from going offsite without authorization and left the mechanics of how to achieve that open ended. The final draft also contained a disclaimer to make it clear that the rules shouldn’t be construed to interfere with the lawful possession or bearing of arms, and it suggested, rather than mandated, that gun users obtain written permission from the owners of property where they intend to shoot.
In the end, these proposed regulations seemed to hit the mark with commissioner Bill Lashley.
“I just want to thank the parties involved here who got together to make reconciliations to get this done,” Lashley asserted before he and his fellow commissioners voted 5-to-0 to approve the ordinance on the first of the two state-mandated readings.
See earlier 2023 coverage of the controversy surrounding Rad gun range and what kind of ordinance the county might adopt to address perceived problems identified by neighbors: