Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson says his police officers’ hands are tied when it comes to people firing guns in the community because of an overly vague state law. He wants lawmakers to clarify what reckless and negligent means in the law that regulates when it’s OK to fire a weapon in public.
The issue came to light when a young man erected a homemade gun range on his father’s front lawn. Neighbors in the South St. Pete neighborhood of Lakewood Estates quickly rallied against his little operation and the media launched a massive blitz on what even the NRA agreed was a bad idea.
Even though supporters of lax gun laws opposed the home gun range because of its close proximity to other homes, they claimed the range was already illegal based on a state statute that says “any person who knowingly discharges a firearm in any public place or on the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street, who knowingly discharges any firearm over the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street or over any occupied premises, or who recklessly or negligently discharges a firearm outdoors on any property used primarily as the site of a dwelling…”
But Henderson says the term “reckless and negligent” is too broad and open to interpretation. Add that to the 2011 law that makes it a punishable offense for local governments to impose or even introduce any local ordinances that would supersede state gun laws and he says his officers are forced to do nothing.
Right now if someone reports gun shots, right now our local law enforcement’s hands are tied to do something about it,” Henderson said. “We can’t enforce anyone firing a firearm on their own private property without being penalized at the state level.”
The issue has already drawn a legislative proposal. A bill filed by Rep. Darryl Rouson who lives in South St. Pete would ban home gun ranges if they are located in residential neighborhoods.
Henderson said he’d support that bill, but he’s not even necessarily asking for that much. He just wants lawmakers to amend the current law to include a more specific definition of “reckless and negligent, “since there’s really no definition right now.”
He also hopes lawmakers could add an amendment defining a distance from other potentially occupied homes and businesses.
“Our police chief suggested 2,500 – feet,” Henderson said.
There’s likely to be pushback on any changes to gun laws that could be seen as an increase to regulations. Henderson asks lawmakers to look at his request as a public safety issue, not a gun control one.
“We’re not talking about who gets to have a gun,” Henderson said.