Thursday, May 30, 2024

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Commissioners postpone approval of proposed gunfire restrictions

“Graduated penalty” to replace proposal $500 per violation standard

Just as they were about to pull the trigger on a new ordinance to restrict errant gunfire, Alamance County’s commissioners have decided to send these proposed regulations back to the drawing board in order to tweak the potential civil penalties that violators would face.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the commissioners voted 4-to-1 to replace a proposed civil fine of $500 with a graduated penalty that would begin at a more modest sum of $100. The commissioners demanded no other adjustments to the proposed regulations, which would prohibit anyone from “willfully” discharging a firearm onto the property of an unwilling neighbor.

The board’s decision to modify the proposed civil penalty comes after several months of wrangling over the proposed ordinance, which the county’s legal department originally drew up in response to resident complaints about errant gunfire that has allegedly originated at Rad Range, an outdoor shooting facility outside of Burlington’s municipal limits. In addition to potential civil fines, the proposed ordinance would allow the local sheriff’s office to arrest violators for a misdemeanor offense – a provision that isn’t affected by the board’s demand for a graduated financial penalty.

The majority of the commissioners agreed to modify the ordinance’s potential fine with the understanding that it would effectively send them back to square one in the multi-stage approval process for the proposed ordinance.

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Under current state law, the county must hold two affirmative votes, “or readings,” for any proposed ordinance that includes criminal sanctions. The commissioners had dispensed with the first of these two state-mandated votes some two weeks ago. Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens had admonished the commissioners that would find themselves back at the “first reading” if they insisted on modifying the civil penalties, as they ultimately did.

A majority of the commissioners were willing to hit the proverbial reset button despite some impassioned objections from sheriff Terry Johnson, who had backed the proposed ordinance in order to give his deputies the wherewithal to address complaints like those they’ve received about gunfire from Rad Range.

“People don’t understand why we can’t make an arrest,” the sheriff added before Monday’s decision. “If somebody just willful done it they need to be charged…But we need some teeth to enforce the law…and If we get called down there again, I’m giving them y’all’s phone numbers.”

County commissioner Craig Turner

The commissioners ultimately voted 4-to-1 to delay the ordinance’s approval in order to revise the civil penalties as per a suggestion from commissioner Craig Turner. Commissioner Pam Thompson cast the lone vote of dissent in this case.

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