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Firearms Discharge Committee discusses issues

Posted: August 20, 2014 8:06 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2014 8:05 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Kevin Rhodes, the Kershaw County School District’s project director for its Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative and a member of the new Kershaw County Firearms Discharge Committee, makes a point during the committee’s first meeting Monday evening as committee member David Higgins (center) listens and committee secretary Ann Carruth (far right) takes notes. Behind the committee members are (from left) Kershaw County Clerk to Council Merri Seigler and Assistant County Administrator Allen Trapp.

The newly-formed Kershaw County Firearms Discharge Committee met Monday and took the first steps toward crafting a compromise ordinance that could satisfy gun enthusiasts as well as property owners with concerns about firearms being used in their neighborhoods.

Kershaw County Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. organized the 11-member committee. Tucker said his goal is to have balanced representation from both sides of the issue.

“We had an ordinance that council read one time and now it’s dead and buried. It got a lot of folks concerned about their rights being infringed upon,” Tucker said. “We’re going to hear from the public. We don’t want to exclude anyone, but the voting body is going to be these 11 … making some of the decisions as representing the citizens of Kershaw County.”

Tucker said he hopes to have a proposed ordinance to present to Kershaw County Council by Nov. 15. He asked members of the committee to introduce themselves and make a brief statement on why they volunteered to serve on the committee and what they hope to accomplish.

• Arlin Rose -- “I’m concerned about the firing at close range to where other people live, like mobile homes, stick-built homes, where people have less than 5 acres of land. It’s just so close that if you fire a weapon to the left or the right or in front, or on my side at the back of the property, you’re firing right into my door. I’m concerned that somebody’s going to get shot.”

• Steven Melton -- “I’m here to help come up with something that will replace common sense. The problems we’re dealing with, common sense would fix it, but evidently you can’t sell that or give it away. I’m just being truthful.”

• Michael Williams -- “I love hunting and I love firearms and I just want to do something for the community, possibly help everybody out here and alleviate some of the problems we’re having.”

• Freddie Myers -- “I want to do something that’s going to be helpful to everybody. The gentleman from the West Wateree section’s got a problem and we need to try and see if we can find an answer for him, but also respect the rights of the ethical hunter.”

• Dewey Bass -- “I’m here to try to represent the people up in my area, up in the North Central area, the Boonetown area, where we have issues of less than 300 feet from the corner of my house to the property line we have people on Sunday morning who just continuously shoot from 9 o’clock until. Everybody in our whole neighborhood is in an uproar about it.”

• William Tetterton -- “There are laws on the books right now that law enforcement can use to address those who are causing the problems. We need to do something that has common sense for everybody. We don’t need to cut off a leg if somebody has a hangnail.”

• Ann Caruth -- “I am not interested in widening the net to catch a few bad apples and swooping up everybody. You say you can’t replace common sense and we have to replace common sense. Let’s find the ones who are not acting common sensibly and see if there are some laws that will take care of that.”

• David Higgins -- “I wanted to be part of this committee just to be able to give some insight. I am an active hunter. I’ve lived here in Kershaw County, grew up in Richland (County) just across the county line. I’m just wanting to be able to help the citizens of Kershaw County to come up with a smart way or an ideal way so it doesn’t affect hunters.”

• Kevin Rhodes -- “My goal is, as many of my colleagues have said before, is to look at the problem and try to do the right thing for all citizens. I really need to give my colleagues and my friends in law enforcement the kudos they deserve because they put themselves in harm’s way when I am in harm’s way because of the stupidity of my neighbor or the (dis)courtesy of my neighbor.”

Committee members William Baker and Will Cowans were not at Monday’s meeting. Following the introductions, members voted Tetterton as committee chairman, Myers as vice-chairman and Caruth as secretary. Tetterton took over the meeting and the committee decided to meet every two weeks on Thursday evenings, with the next meeting set for 6 p.m. Sept. 4.

During public comments, Dr. John Francis Zedick said the ordinance the county council considered but did not approve was too restrictive. It would have prohibited firing a gun within 300 yards of neighboring property.

“The way the ordinance was written seemed to be arbitrary and capricious, because it was not mathematically possible,” Zedick said. “For example, we have 90 acres, but none of it is wider than 1,700 feet, so we could never have a range in there.”

Tetterton said he had a four-phase plan on approaching the firearms issue. First, would be to identify the problem and see if it could be narrowed down to certain areas of concern. The second part would be to find who is causing the problems, as many gun owners are safe and responsible. The third step would be to see if there are other laws already in place that would cover certain offenses, such as excessive noise, creating a public nuisance or presenting and pointing a firearm. The final step would be to determine appropriate consequences for committing offenses.

The committee delved into identifying the problems Monday, with members Rose, Bass and Rhodes sharing their concerns about neighbors shooting firearms. Rose said he has called the sheriff’s office multiple times about gunshots in his area, but without a firearms ordinance, nothing has been done. As he said in his introductory statement, Bass said he and other residents in his area have issues with noise and the possibility of stray bullets. Rhodes said he lives at Lake Wateree and has had a problem with teenagers firing a rifle at the water in his general direction and he has heard bullets ricochet off the water.

“My neighbors -- children, in fact -- would come out in the yard at random times and unload the clip of a rifle into the water at various directions. Their goal was to unload it as fast as they could, but sometimes they would be shooting generally in my direction, sometimes generally in a different direction on multiple occasions,” Rhodes said.

Tetterton said Rhodes’ situation is an example in which another ordinance, in his case the law against presenting and pointing, should be in effect,

“It’s a felony, and it can be prosecuted,” Tetterton, an attorney and former solicitor, said.

Tucker said he wanted the keep the meeting to around an hour in length, so the committee adjourned shortly after 7 p.m. The discussion will resume at the Sept. 4 meeting.

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