Amendment would ban gun ranges in some residential areas

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A compromise between the National Rifle Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association has revived the possibility of a ban on backyard gun ranges in Florida.

The Florida House on Thursday amended a bill on Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulations to ban shooting in dense residential areas. The Senate has already adopted a similar amendment.

The amendment, attached to House Bill 995 and Senate Bill 1444, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to fire a gun for recreational reasons, “including for target shooting or celebratory shooting,” in a residential area with a density of one home per acre or more.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, introduced a bill banning backyard gun ranges just before the legislative session began, but it quickly died when Rouson couldn’t find a Senate sponsor.

Backyard gun ranges caused a ruckus last year in the Tampa Bay area, Rouson’s home turf, including an incident in which a Tampa home was peppered with AK-47 fire from a backyard target range. Rouson said neighbors had complained to him about a backyard gun range in a St. Petersburg neighborhood, but city officials couldn’t do anything about it.

The idea of a ban was revived in negotiations between the police chiefs and Florida NRA chief Marion Hammer, said Amy Mercer, executive director of the association. She said Hammer approved language suggested by the chiefs.

State Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, sponsored the amendment.

Rouson’s bill had looser requirements for residential density and would have applied in more areas.

“It’s as much as we can get right now,” he said. “You learn in this process to take baby steps.”

Current state law bans shooting in residential areas only if it’s reckless or negligent and forbids local governments from enacting their own regulations. Law officers say the state law is difficult to enforce.

“You have to wait for a bad result. By then, it’s too late,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bill Gualtieri said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.