Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Home on the (gun) range


OUR OPINION: DIY shooting ranges require much stronger regulation

Let’s see a show of hands of all you folks out there who would like a neighbor to set up a shooting range in his back yard and start firing away at any time of the day or night.

Hmmm don’t see a lot of raised hands out there. Guess that has to do with the noise. Or the inconvenience. Or the potential for danger and the risk of errant shots coming over the fence into adjoining properties.

Or maybe it’s just the sheer craziness of it — the very idea of free-lance, do-it-yourself shooting ranges in residential areas.

But, hey, this is Florida. We’re just crazy about guns around these parts. The latest revelation about lax regulation — make that no regulation — of DIY shooting ranges on private property, regardless of location, serves to prove the point. In case it wasn’t obvious already.

The story of the gun enthusiast in Big Pine Key with his own personal shooting range, reported last week in the Herald, makes it clear that such ranges are perfectly legal in the Gunshine State. Even the range owner himself, Doug Varrieur, professes to be concerned about the “loose” laws governing shooting ranges.

Mr. Varrieur takes care to lessen the possibility of a ricochet and to minimize the danger of a shooting accident or a stray shot, and otherwise appears to be a person keenly aware that guns are dangerous and must be handled with care.

But that is beside the point — he didn’t have to take any precautionary measures at all. The law doesn’t require it.

Indeed, the law doesn’t require much of anything. There is nothing in Florida statute 790.15, covering “weapons and firearms,” that would forbid DIY ranges, except that anyone firing “recklessly or negligently” might be guilty of a misdemeanor.

What exactly does that mean? Firing at night? How about firing next to a school yard or daycare center? How about inviting your friends over for a ’round-the-clock shoot-a-thon? How about using high-powered rifles and armor-piercing bullets? (Mr. Varrieur, for the record, doesn’t think those are safe to use at home.)

Apparently, no one knows the answers because in their haste to do the NRA’s bidding, the Legislature didn’t bother to spell it out. And there is no case law at the appellate level to help law-enforcement officers figure out how they should respond to complaints.

As a result, says Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, “It’s almost the wild, wild West again.” And if they have the right license, he adds, anyone firing a fully automatic weapon, aka a machine gun, “technically would not be in violation of anything.”

Take no comfort in the idea that local authorities can prohibit personal shooting ranges in densely settled municipalities. They can’t.

State law preempts local ordinances when it comes to the use of firearms in Florida.

To settle any doubts about that, the Legislature in 2011, backed by the NRA — or was it the other way around? — created penalties for local lawmakers who try to establish parameters for firearms in their jurisdictions.

Prohibiting backyard ranges would be nonstarter in the Capitol. The NRA would see to that. But maybe lawmakers could enact a few reasonable restrictions.

These would include rules about location, the proper type of targets, weapons and ammunition, the time of day shots can be fired and requiring owners to take a gun-safety course.

Florida’s lawmakers are devoted to upholding the Second Amendment. No problem. But they should be equally devoted to ensuring public safety.

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