Thursday, May 30, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Gun range critics, supporters face off as commissioners start consideration of regulations

Alamance County’s sheriff has persuaded the owner of an area gun range to lend his provisional support to a proposed firearms ordinance that was triggered, in part, by complaints which his own business has stirred among neighboring residents.

Sheriff Terry Johnson announced this tentative arrangement with Rudy Cartassi of Rad Range Training and Event Center shortly after Alamance County’s commissioners reviewed a draft of the county’s prospective new ordinance during their latest regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday.

Sheriff Terry Johnson with Rad gun range owner Rudy Cartassi

With Cartassi stolidly at his side, Johnson informed the commissioners that he had struck a deal with the gun range’s owner that could smooth the way for these potential restrictions on unsafe and negligent uses of firearms in unincorporated parts of the county. The sheriff also noted that Cartassi had accepted an added concession to neighbors who’ve complained about the operating hours of his business.

“He’s graciously agreed not to do any shooting at the range until after lunch on Sunday,” Johnson said of Rad’s proprietor, “and he’ll accept whatever ordinance you folks decide to pass.”

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Rad rage

The sheriff’s bargain with the gun range’s owner followed more than a year of sniping between supporters and critics of Cartassi’s venue, whose site at 1746 Jim Barnwell Road lies north of Burlington’s municipal limits.

The first shot in this rhetorical battle erupted last spring when a number of Rad’s neighbors approached the board of commissioners to complain about the excessive noise that they said emanated from the gun range’s grounds.

Cartassi soon fired back with assertions that his business enjoyed a grandfather exemption from the county’s noise ordinance. The gun range’s owner traced this exemption back to an American Revolution-themed gun club that the site’s previous owner had operated. Meanwhile, Cartassi launched a campaign for the board of commissioners that served to keep Rad Range in the news throughout the spring of 2022.

The controversy over Rad Range briefly subsided following the demise of Cartassi’s campaign in last year’s Republican primary. Yet, it was only a matter of time before the resentments of the gun range’s critics flared up again before the board of commissioners.

Two weeks ago, a couple of Rad’s more adamant adversaries approached the county’s governing board to reiterate their objections to Cartassi’s business. This time, the gun range’s

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opponents focused their attention less on the volume of Rad’s operations than on the stray bullets that they insist crisscross the neighborhood. The neighbors also took offense to Rad’s provocative online promotions, including a recent Facebook post that offered to treat visitors to an experience “like standing on a rooftop in Bengazi.”

 

Showdown in Graham

The commissioners ultimately heard more from the gun range’s detractors during a public comment period that kicked off their regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday.

Among those who addressed the commissioners that morning was Butch McKenzie of White Swan Drive, who had previously approached the commissioners in March to complain of stray bullets from Cartassi’s facility.

“How many chances are we going to give the range before somebody gets shot?” McKenzie asked the commissioners on Monday. “This is not just about the range being unsafe; this is about the brazen attitudes of the owners.”

McKenzie’s grievances were later echoed by Gary “Dwayne” Allred, who recalled his own close encounters with errant rounds while hunting on land that his aunt owns not far from the gun range.

Butch McKenzie

“How many chances are we going to give the range before somebody gets shot?  This is not just about the range being unsafe; this is about the brazen attitudes of the owners.”

– Butch McKenzie, White Swan Drive neighbor of the Rad gun range

Gary “Dwayne” Allred

“There have been many times that I’ve been on my aunt’s property and I’ve had to put my head behind a tree hoping not to get shot. All I’m asking for is the range to come up tremendously on the safety protocols.”

– Gary “Dwayne” Allred

“There have been many times that I’ve been on my aunt’s property and I’ve had to put my head behind a tree hoping not to get shot,” Allred lamented. “All I’m asking for is the range to come up tremendously on the safety protocols.”

The commissioners heard a similar plea from area resident Gary Garrison, who accused Rad of compounding an already volatile situation by plying its patrons with “cocktails.”

Gary Garrison

Meanwhile, Darrell Russell, a retired civil engineer who resides in the northern part of the county, urged the commissioners to adopt rules that would apply to any and all gun ranges in the county’s unincorporated reaches.

Darrell Russell

“Shooting ranges affect a significant part of the county and thousands of residents. The residents in all these zones need protection, and they need your help.”

– Darrell Russell

“Shooting ranges affect a significant part of the county and thousands of residents,” Russell went on to insist. “The residents in all these zones need protection, and they need your help.”

 

Return fire

In addition to these four critics of Rad’s operations, the commissioners heard from an equal number of residents who expressed their support for the embattled gun range.

These comrades in arms included Richard Clark, an adjacent property owner and self-described authority in sound measurement who assured the commissioners that Rad’s operations pose no danger to human hearing.

Richard Clark

Another neighbor, Kenneth Thompsen, declared that he intentionally moved across the street from the gun range, whose management he insisted “continuously works on their safety protocol.”

Kenneth Thompsen
Brian Compton

“I have been shot at in the course of my duties.   But I’ve not heard anything like that around the property at Rad Range… I don’t see how bullets are going by people’s heads because things are being shot into a berm on a consistent basis.”

– Brian Compton, former California state trooper who now lives near the Rad gun range

Equally unperturbed about Rad’s activities was Brian Compton, a retired California state trooper who now lives along NC 62 within ear shot of the gun range.

“I have been shot at in the course of my duties,” Compton acknowledged. “But I’ve not heard anything like that around the property at Rad Range… I don’t see how bullets are going by people’s heads because things are being shot into a berm on a consistent basis.”

Cartassi was, likewise, on hand to offer some first-hand testimony in defense of the gun range, which he argued has done nothing to warrant the barrage of protests that have recently rained down from his critics.

Rad gun range owner Rudy Cartassi

“We already have rules on the range,” he added, “and the only thing that has happened recently is that we’ve done maintenance on the berms.”

 

New rules

Notwithstanding Cartassi’s appeals to the contrary, the neighborhood’s reports of stray bullets were enough to raise the eyebrows of the county’s leaders when they heard these accounts two weeks ago. The commissioners went on to instruct the county’s legal staff to rough out an ordinance to address this potential threat to the lives and safety of neighboring residents.

In response to this directive, Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens approached the commissioners on Monday with a proposed set of regulations which aimed to ensure that firearms are operated safely and responsibly outside the county’s cities and towns.

“The proposal is to regulate the discharge of firearms in situations where it’s unsafe,” Stevens went on to explain as he unveiled these rules, “and I’m very cognizant of the fact that we should not be drafting laws that regulate certain businesses specifically.”

The county attorney stressed that, per North Carolina state statute, the suggested provisions wouldn’t apply to “lawful hunting,” “lawful defense,” or law enforcement-sanctioned activities. For other uses, he suggested that guns should only be discharged “into a naturally constructed backstop” that’s “adequate to stop the projectile” – although he also proposed specific exceptions for pastimes like trap shooting, skeet shooting, and sporting plays.

Stevens also recommended another, broader provision that would forbid projectiles from entering neighboring property without the owner’s written consent, and he suggested additional rules to prohibit people from firing guns while inebriated – with violators identified using the same criteria that law enforcement agencies use for drunk drivers.

In any event, the county attorney’s proposed ordinance would allow the sheriff’s office to issue civil penalties to violators or prosecute them for misdemeanors subject to fines as high as $500.

 

Hits and misses

The county attorney’s suggestions drew a whole host of questions and concerns from the commissioners. The proposed language about a “naturally constructed backstop” proved particularly problematic for commissioner Craig Turner, himself an attorney, who ultimately deemed the entire provision unnecessary if the county prohibits projectiles from making their way to neighboring property.

“If it’s illegal for a round to leave your property,” Turner inquired rhetorically, “is there a need to stipulate how it stays on your property?”

Turner and some of his fellow commissioners were also hung up on the added provision that would allow shooting off site with a neighbor’s written permission. But all in all, the county’s governing board generally seemed to concur with Stevens that the use of firearms should be subject to some modest form of restriction.

“I’m a supporter of the 2nd Amendment myself,” Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, said as he captured the prevailing mood of the group, “But it’s a tough issue, and we’ve got to come up with some kind of middle ground.”

Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson

“Unless we have something, there’s not a doggone thing you can do as sheriff except keep responding. I am a Second Amendment man all the way. I love guns. I love shooting guns. But something has to be put in place in this county to ensure that the public remains safe.”

– Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson

The prospect of county-level restrictions on gunfire also went over well with the sheriff, who insisted that this newfound authority would enable his deputies to deal with egregious abuses that presently force them to throw up their hands.

“Unless we have something, there’s not a doggone thing you can do as sheriff except keep responding,” Johnson told the commissioners. “I am a Second Amendment man all the way. I love guns. I love shooting guns. But something has to be put in place in this county to ensure that the public remains safe.”

The county attorney’s proposal nevertheless got a much different reaction from Cartassi.

“Here’s what’s really going to happen if you pass this ordinance,” Rad Range’s owner objected. “Let’s say a customer comes to my range, he sneezes as he fires a gun, it ricochets…out of the range and hits a tree. Somebody could see that and say ‘oh, they shot my tree. But it wasn’t intentional…No real property was damaged. The squirrels didn’t call the sheriff.”

 

Worth a shot?

In the end, the commissioners suggested a few tweaks to Stevens’ draft, and they instructed the county attorney to bring the resulting revisions back for their formal approval. Under current state law, this nod will require two separate votes from the commissioners because the proposed ordinance concerns new criminal penalties.

In the midst of these resolutions, Johnson and Cartassi ducked out of the board’s meeting chamber to discuss the business owner’s lingering concerns about the proposed ordinance. By the time they returned to the meeting, the sheriff was able to declare that he’d reached a rapprochement with the gun range’s proprietor.

“He assured me that there would be people on that range to make sure no violations occur,” Johnson went on to inform the commissioners. “We also talked about how there can be ricochets off of metal targets, and there’s nothing he can do about that. But at least I think he understands the seriousness of what you all are confronted with…we shook hands on it, and if he follows what he said he would do, we’re gonna make it alright.”

Meanwhile, Cartassi told the commissioners that he had the sheriff’s assurance that he wouldn’t be penalized if he makes a good faith effort to discourage irresponsible behavior among the gun range’s patrons.

“If we find that they’re doing something [illegal] we’ll take them off the range,” he added.

“But Terry said they won’t come after us directly because we’re trying to follow the law…and we will stop shooting from 9 [a.m.] to 12 [noon] on Sundays.”

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