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Previously Controversial Gun Bill Gets Backing Of NRA, Florida Police Chiefs

MGN Online

Several gun-related bills have already been filed for the 2016 legislative session. But, it includes a non-controversial bill agreed to by both the Florida Police Chiefs and the National Rifle Association.

“So, this is your simplest drill. Magazine is partially out. I gotta tap, rack, go. Simple enough,” said Charlie Strickland, after firing two gunshots.

In an online training video, Strickland is showing the proper way to use a gun at an outside gun range. The candidate for Leon County Sheriff is also one of the lead instructors at the Talon Training Group in Tallahassee, formed by a group of law enforcement officers.

And, by law, he’s allowed to have an outside gun range. But, law enforcers have encountered cases of citizens trying to do their own recreational shooting in their own backyard.

It’s actually against the law to have such private ranges, and the cops want it to stop. Some want more clarification, like Amy Mercer, the Executive Director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

“We feel like that the law at this time makes it very difficult for our officers when responding to calls of this kind to really be able to address the issues on the scene,” said Mercer.

Mercer’s group is behind a bill filed recently making it a first degree misdemeanor to set up a recreational target range near a home.

“This legislation would prohibit recreational or celebratory and including target shooting in an area that the person knows or reasonably should know that’s primarily residential in nature and has a residential density of one or more dwelling units per acre,” added Mercer.

It’s the revival of a failed effort that came up during this past legislative session by  Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg).

“A young gentleman who just a few blocks from my house decided he could set up a sandbox as a gun range and incurred the ire and the outrage of some of the neighbors who have children at play in the neighborhood. That’s what this is doing. This is not try to capture someone who lives on a five acre plot or a 50 acre plot. And, it prohibits excludes shooting ranges, outdoor shooting ranges as well as shooting ranges approved by the NRA,” said Rouson.

That wasn’t enough to sway the gun rights group NRA’s Marion Hammer, who—at the time—said the existing law was enough.

“To my knowledge, no arrest has been made and no prosecutor has even attempted to prosecute a person who has violated the law by negligently and recklessly discharging a firearm in a dense neighborhood. There have been occasions where property has been damaged. Nothing has been done. This is not a good bill. NRA strongly opposes it. We don’t need it,” stated Hammer, at the time.

With no Senate sponsor and the disapproval of the NRA, Rouson’s bill initially did not go anywhere. But, after working out their differences, Hammer and the Florida Police Chiefs agreed on new language contained in another bill.

“It gives clarification to the existing prohibitions against reckless and negligent shooting in residential neighborhoods,” said Hammer. “No one has a right to endanger the life of their neighbors. Zoning ordinances control where shooting ranges can be built. And, I know of no zoning ordinance anywhere that allows shooting ranges in residential neighbors.”

But, that also didn’t pass because the House adjourning early. Now, the groups have agreed to bring the measure up again in 2016 as a standalone bill.

“The only new language is that it makes it clear that if you are in a dense residential neighborhood, and it effectively defines the density of a neighborhood as one in which there is one or more dwelling units per acre,” added Hammer. “So, this is just clarification for people who claim they don’t understand.”

And, Florida Police Chiefs Mercer says they’re grateful that they can move forward and work to protect the citizens of Florida.

“When we’re dealing with firearms and people shooting in densely populated areas, even one incident could be tragedy,” said Mercer. “And, that’s why we felt it’s important. I know over the past year, we had heard of a few different incidences throughout the state. And, like I said, even one incident that resulted in the loss of life would be too many.”

Representative Rouson is expected sign on again as a bill sponsor. And, Rep. Neil Combee (R-Polk City), who filed this year’s House bill, says he believes the measure has a good chance of passing.

“I know the Police Chiefs, it’s a priority for them, and it’s also supported by the NRA,” said Combee. “And, it really should be an easy bill to get passed, I would think, when you have that kind of support.”

Meanwhile, the measure does come with some exceptions. It includes people lawfully defending their life or property as well as those performing official duties that require the discharge of a firearm.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.