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The Daily Tar Heel

Gun regulations under fire at Orange County Commissioners meeting

orange county commissioners
The Orange County Board of County Commissioners met on Tuesday, Sept. 10 to discuss regulation for discharging firearms.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners discussed options for firearm discharge regulations in densely-populated areas of the county on Tuesday and disagreed on various fronts.

The workshop began with a presentation by County Attorney John Roberts. Roberts said this past spring, the board heard complaints from local residents about gunfire near their residential development and bullets found in gutters. He said he was asked to inform the board about possibilities for gun discharge regulations.

“What this presentation is, is not a recommendation or a proposal or a suggestion,” he said. “It’s just information for the board to give you an idea of what this would look like and, if the board wants to pursue it, a lot more work would need to go into this.”

The Planning Department staff created a map illustrating areas of the county with 10 or more residential units per 10 acres of land, but Roberts noted that the board would need to establish more detailed criteria for population density should it decide to pursue the ordinance. 

In accordance with North Carolina state law, the regulations would not apply to legal hunting, self-defense or “the lawful directions of law enforcement officers.”

Roberts said the ordinance would not violate the U.S. Constitution.

“Any one of the rights in the Bill of Rights may be regulated, as our Supreme Court has said as long as the regulation itself is very narrowly tailored to accomplish a specific purpose,” he said. “When you go beyond that narrow focus and start making a broad law that applies and has impacts that weren’t intended, that’s when it could become unconstitutional.”

Roberts recommended the establishment of a permit process for non-commercial gun ranges and said outdoor commercial ranges would be regulated, but he does not believe there are any outdoor commercial ranges in Orange County’s high-density areas.

Durham County implemented a similar ordinance to what Orange County might pursue, but removed references to population density in December 2018, citing the challenge of enforcement. 

Commissioner Earl McKee expressed concerns that Orange County might face a similar issue.

“I look at this as totally unenforceable,” he said.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said it’s too early for him to comment on how this ordinance might be enforced. He said he does not discuss legislation before it is signed into law.

“I know there are folks out there who are very passionate about gun control and removing guns from the world," he said. "That’s not what this ordinance is going to do. This ordinance is going to create a safe environment for folks who live close to these areas.”

Blackwood said if the ordinance passes, deputies will respond to violations and ask the accused to curtail their behavior. If they refuse, the matter will go to court and be prosecuted by the district attorney.

McKee said he wants the subdivision of the county labeled.

“I’d be very reluctant to start drawing lines on a map when I know there are hundreds of acres in that (subdivision) that are going to be affected by those same regulations," he said. "Although the shooting limits would be totally acceptable." 

When Commissioner Mark Dorosin asked if the regulation could apply exclusively to extraterritorial jurisdictions or would have to apply uniformly across the county, Roberts said he would need to research further but that this type of measure might be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

If the board decides to pursue this ordinance, Roberts said, it will receive more data before the public hearing. 

Citing a lack of firm plans for the ordinance and prior communication to the public that the work session would not be open for public comment, the commissioners decided not to open up the meeting.


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