The gun control debate is always a hotly contested one pitting the sides against each other. So, it’s attention grabbing when a state law giving gun owners more freedom causes Second Amendment advocates to demand more regulations. The Miami Herald recently spoke to Doug Varrieur, a gun owner and homeowner in Big Pine Key, Florida. For the past month, Varrieur has exercised his Florida state right to shoot guns on his residential property every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. in his homemade gun range.
Neighbors were concerned for the safety of citizens and pets, but were surprised when they found out that Florida statute 790.15 makes discharging a firearm on a residential property legal. It’s a law that not only surprised Varrieur’s neighbors, but also Varrieur himself.
Mr. Varrieur made his first gun purchase 27 years ago after a gun was pulled on him in a parking lot while he was with his wife and two young children. Since then he has purchased several additional fire arms and it was a gun shop owner who told Varrieur about a ‘rumor’ that the statute existed. Varrieur researched it and recalled, “I said to my wife, ‘Do you know the only rules to discharging firearms on residential property are that you can’t fire over a right-of-way of any paved public road, highway or street, you can’t fire over any occupied dwelling and you can’t fire recklessly or negligently?...That’s it.” It’s a statute that has been on the books since 1987, sans the “recklessly or negligently” wording, which was added in 2011.
Varrieur said that when constructing his firing range he was very concerned about safety because his parents, in their 80’s, live next door to him. He took the precautions he could to ensure that the range on his property was as safe as possible, installing, amongst other things, a $600 wooden backstop measuring 8 ft. by 7 ft. and 1 ft. thick.
But the home gun range owner was upset that the Florida statute included no mandatory safety requirements. Varrieur said, “I would be fearful if someone just started firing weapons on his side yard without appropriate and proper backdrops and safety precautions in place…You’re damn right I would be. There is no room for error when it comes to a lethal weapon.”
Recently, a sad incident involving a residential firing range demonstrated the possible serious consequences. On Christmas Day in 2013, grandfather Bruce Fleming died when he was hit by a stray bullet that was fired from his Volusia County neighbor’s yard. The shooter was identified, but no arrest has yet been made while the forensic evidence is investigated.
Florida statute 790.15 pre-empts any local ordinances. Though some counties have passed ordinances outlawing firing guns in residential areas, in 2011 Governor Rick Scott signed a law which not only declared all local firearm ordinances null and void, but also issued penalties for local lawmakers who create or uphold county, city, town or municipal gun ordinances. Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said, “Without any oversight, somebody’s neighbor could set up a gun range and invite his friends over and have a good old time shooting… That’s a little scary situation, and I say that as a gun owner and somebody who believes in the Second Amendment.”
Sheriff Rick Ramsay from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said, “I honestly had hoped no one would catch wind of it and it would become public knowledge…This isn’t about the right to own and bear arms. My concern is public safety and quality of life.” The Sheriff added, “And even if you are a good shot, bullets can ricochet…Just look at all the holes in the ceiling and side walls at indoor gun ranges.”