The Orange County Board of Commissioners accepted new rural firearms safety rules Monday but also agreed to discuss issues next year related to shooting noise, hours and proximity to schools.
While shooting is banned within 1,000 feet of a school, unless the shooter is on private property, James Barrett, the chairman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, recently asked the commissioners to address shooting noise near schools.
“When they hear gunfire nearby, they (go) into temporary lockdown until they can figure out what’s going on,” Commissioner Mark Marcoplos said.
The firearm rules, adopted unanimously, were crafted over several months by a 15-member Firearms Safety Committee. The committee had seven county officials who did not vote, six gun owners and two members with gun safety concerns.
The rules do not affect hunting, which is regulated by the state; defense of a person or property; or firearms rules within town limits.
The commissioners also accepted the committee’s recommendation that the county work with public and private groups to promote firearms safety and awareness, distribute educational materials about gun safety and storage, and provide more opportunities for firearms safety classes.
Commissioner Earl McKee, a committee liaison, said the group wrestled with how to define noise but left it to the commissioners. The issue will continue as the county shifts from mostly rural to more residential neighborhoods, he said.
Marcoplos suggested having gun owners ask their neighbors for written permission.
“If you live in a neighborhood and there’s a lot of people there, then I think it’s incumbent upon you to check with your neighbors and get written permission from them as well,” he said. “If you can’t, then I think that means you live in a denser neighborhood.”
Sheriff’s Office statistics show calls about sustained gunfire have fallen from 60 in 2012 to one last year and five so far this year. There have been no gun-related fatalities or personal injuries – outside of criminal activity – since 2013 and only three reports of minor property damage.
The rules will help deputies handle more situations, Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said.
“It gives us teeth when we run into those situations where people are shooting without due respect for safety and caution, or shooting from their porch at 3 o’clock in morning after they’ve been drinking all night,” he said.
Orange County’s new rules require sport shooters to:
▪ Have a natural or constructed backstop “adequate to stop the projectile”
▪ Discharge a firearm with regard for the safety of others
▪ Discharge a firearm in a way that ensures the projectile stays on the property
▪ Have written permission if discharging a firearm onto another person’s property and present it to any investigating officer
▪ Refrain from shooting after consuming alcohol or another impairing substance
Violations are a Class 3 civil misdemeanor subject to a $500 fine.