CRIME CITY

Backyard Blasters

There's nothing illegal about shooting stuff 
on private property — and that's insane

Posted

When I was young, shooting rats on rocks was what you did in Neptune Beach in the summer. Before the federal government spent millions to pump sand from offshore to restore our local beaches, there was, at high water, no beach at all. There were rocks and rats.

The rocks were granite boulders; the rats were flossy 5-pounders, fat from eating dead fish, garbage, sea cooties and the occasional oyster. Against gray rocks, gray rats are almost invisible. The key to shooting them is to use bleach. When you pour it into the crannies, the rats boil up with white bulls-eyes on their fur where the Clorox hit.

With bourbon in a Dixie cup and a box of shells, I whiled away many afternoons blasting vermin, yukking it up when the ricochets whizzed overhead, watching the slugs splash into the ocean.

Yee-haw!

At no time while I was blowing up rats did it occur to me that someone might walk or swim or drive a boat into one of those bullets. I never inquired as to the range of a .22 magnum fired from that rifle. Bourbon, bullets and a hot sun will do that.

No doubt you're thinking, "Those were the bad old days. In this shiny new century, that stuff is strictly illegal." You'd be strictly wrong. Discharging firearms from private property was legal then. It's more legal now.

Back in the day, cities and counties could limit shooting with ordinances for zoning, noise abatement and health and safety. Now they can't. In 1987, the state Legislature passed Florida Statute 790.15, which bans local governments from enforcing any firearms ordinances. In 2005, then-Attorney General Charlie Crist wrote the definitive opinion: "It is well settled that absent a general law stating otherwise, local governments have no authority to regulate firearms in any manner."

There is an exception: Local police can arrest anyone shooting recklessly or negligently. This sounds more important than it is. Any violation is a misdemeanor, subject to the misdemeanor presence rule that requires cops to actually witness the violation. So far, no appellate courts have defined what "recklessness" and "negligence" are. Is it reckless to shoot squirrels in trees, with the slugs whizzing off into the blue to land miles away? How about blasting targets at midnight in the back lot with .50 ball that can go through a medium oak tree and a car engine or two? Nobody knows.

Remarkably, the law levies a fine of $5,000 on any police officer or city official who even attempts to enforce local gun ordinances. It strips away municipal government employees' sovereign immunity and union and civil service job protections. In other words, they can be fired.

This is not a theoretical problem. Every year, people in Florida are killed by stray bullets — in Deltona last December and in Jacksonville in 2012. Here in Police Zone I, bad boys fire Glocks and AKs into the air on the weekends to impress girls and get laid. I see the slugs in wall plaster in friends' houses. Out on mile 7 of the Rail Trail, I've been peppered with spent pellets from gun club shooters who load extra large shot into their cartridges to bust more clay.

Those steel balls really do a number on the powder finish of a fine bike. They're not too easy on eyeballs and eardrums, either.

I oppose as futile most attempts to regulate gun ownership. I live 30 yards away from a seafood shack where, for about $200, you can get a stolen Sig Sauer or Glock packed piping hot into your fried shrimp takeout. Would gun ownership limits do anything about those pistols, or the Chinese AKs smuggled through our port?

Of course not. Hell, some hoodlums once tried to sell me a machine gun when I was out walking the Shih Tzu!

The state should, however, regulate the discharge of unsafe firearms. The only legitimate uses of firearms are personal protection, sport shooting of targets and skeet, and hunting. Backyard shooting often accompanies backyard drinking and backyard drugging. Requiring cops to park their steel-toed shoes on the property line while goofballs fire through trees and fences, into the air and God knows where, is frightening.

What about condominiums, where you own an equal, undivided share of the common area? How about apartments? Should you be able to set up a firing range next to the swing set and sandbox? These questions have yet to be addressed, and that's madness,

In Crime City.

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