Bills Making It Illegal To Recreationally Shoot Guns In Backyards Clear First Legislative Panels

Sep 16, 2015

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A bill making it illegal to discharge a firearm for recreational purposes in residential neighborhoods cleared its first committees in the House and Senate Wednesday. But, it comes with some concerns.

Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) is the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“Current law is not clear about the discharging of firearms in residential neighborhoods,” said Richter. “Current law requires that the discharge of a firearm in a residential area is a misdemeanor, if the discharge was reckless or negligent. The standard of reckless or negligent is difficult to enforce and to prove. The change in the law proposed by SB 130 would affirmatively declare that discharging in a residential area with a density of one residents to the acre or greater is a misdemeanor. SB 130 provides clarity in the law and tool for law enforcement to use in keeping our communities safe.”

And, he says it provides for two exceptions.

“1) If the firearm is discharged by a person lawfully defending life or property, and 2) if the discharge does not pose a risk to a reasonable foreseeable risk to life, safety, or property,” he added. “This exception is to address situations like a homeowner shooting a poisonous snake that has slithered up from the neighborhood retention pond.”

The National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer says it’s meant to crackdown on people, like a St. Petersburg man who constructed what he called “a range.”

“…which was basically some 4 by 4 pallets with sand in the middle, and told everybody it was a shooting range and he was going to shoot, even though there was a playground was behind it. He never fired a shot, and that’s why law enforcement couldn’t do anything. If the homeowner’s association allowed him to build something trashy like that in his front yard, that’s up to the homeowner’s association. But, if he had fired a shot, he could have and should have been arrested.”

But, some lawmakers had some concerns.

“If we’re going after building target ranges or target shooting whatever in a backyard in dense areas, this doesn’t say you can’t build it,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville). “It just says you can’t shoot. So, I’m not sure if the idea is to keep that from happening in the first place, then that should be addressed also.”

During the Senate Criminal Justice committee, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) also questioned Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio. He represents the Florida Police Chiefs Association, which worked with the NRA on writing the legislation.

“If they were cleaning their weapon and there was a discharge, do you think law enforcement would have the authority under this legislation to charge them with a misdemeanor,” asked Brandes. 

“If it was accidental and we can prove it was accidental—as we know, sometimes people are not honest with us and they do something and they want to claim it’s accidental. But, I think if we can prove it’s accidental, I don’t believe that we would charge anyone under this law,” Fabrizio responded.

Still, Brandes wanted some assurance that an accidental discharge would be explicitly defined.

“I want to make sure that it’s rock solid that accidental discharges are not considered a misdemeanor, and when someone cleans their firearms—as horrible as that is and as much as we don’t want that to occur—there shouldn’t be threat of going to jail for that,” he stated.

While Richter has agreed to look into that, Rep. Neil Combee (R-Polk City)—the bill’s House sponsor—is not so sure it needs that sort of clarity.

“Think that the police chief that was there did a good job answering that question,” said Combee. “So, we’ll leave it up to the state attorneys and their folks and the courts to use their judgment. But, if there’s truly an accidental discharge, I think it will be pretty easy to understand and prove that.”

Like its Senate companion, his bill also passed its first hearing in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Wednesday.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.