Arming Pickens County Citizens
I’ve been watching all of the news surrounding the shooting range at Twelve Mile Defense in Liberty, SC for some time.
For those of you who haven’t been following it, here is a quick recap:
It appears that much of the drama arose from noise complaints. Complaints to the Sheriff’s Office appear to have been pointed to the fact that in the county there is no noise ordinance or prohibition against shooting. The Sheriff’s Office website even has a FAQ entry about shooting.
The shooting range at Twelve Mile Defense has been in operation for a couple of years now. Twelve Mile Defense is a federally licensed firearms manufacturer, and a Special Occupational Taxpayer. This means that Twelve Mile Defense can buy, sell, repair, and manufacture firearms including NFA items.
Of course noise is one thing, but recently things escalated when one of the complainants reported that a round had struck and penetrated his house. While noise isn’t prohibited, discharging a firearm at or into a dwelling house is prohibited (SC Code of Laws §16-23-440) and is a felony.
According to multiple news reports, the Sheriffs Office has determined that they can’t determine if the round originated at Twelve Mile Defense or somewhere else. Poignantly they noted that even when the range was shut down for their investigation that they could hear gunshots in the surrounding area.
I was curious how all of this was affecting Twelve Mile Defense, and I went up to find that the place was shut down. Indeed, as the news had reported the range was closed. Still I heard around 14 gunshots from the surrounding area despite the range itself being vacant. Later I talked with some folks who used to shoot at Twelve Mile Defense; they alleged that the complainant shot into his own house, out of frustration that no one took his noise complaint seriously.
So, with the Sheriff’s Office unable to determine if the rounds came from Twelve Mile Defense, why are they shut down? Well it turns out that zoning and the planning commission was used as a brute force tool. Apparently there is an obscure, barely known county ordinance that requires the Planning Commission to arrange a public hearing about new shooting ranges to ensure that they possess an adequate amount of insurance, that the range can be operated safely, and that noise isn’t problematic. It also requires the Sheriff’s Office to weigh in on the issue. It has been inferred that this step was never complied with, though I am still trying to figure out if that is indeed true, and whether it was an ommission on the part of the Planning Commission or Twelve Mile Defense.
Having been through the licensing process, I know that the ATF explicitly asks the planning commission if there are any problems with the intended operation. My specific IOI not only asked me what my long term plans were for the business, but also informed the planning commission about my planned activities and asked if any approvals were needed. I suspect that happened with Twelve Mile Defense as well. My license was contingent on, among other things, the planning commission saying that what I was doing was legal.
Having this ordinance in place is apparently not enough – Pickens County Council announced a moratorium on permission being granted for new shooting ranges. I worry about this step. Over the past 15 years I’ve seen three shooting ranges shut down. Most of them started as noise complaints, and then fear of something bad happening. At one point in my life I was visiting a public range at least every other week. That range was shut down. Now, most of my shooting occurs in my back yard. I’m fortunate to have scores of acres available to me and good natural backstops. But I know that’s not common. I know that folks regularly shoot in their back or even front yards in Pickens County. Shutting down a range, or introducing a ban on ranges isn’t going to stop people from shooting, even now there are news reports of folks in Pickens County shooting at Tannerite in their back yards. I don’t know what more one can reasonably do; require insurance, get law enforcement input into design and operation, require there to be relative certainty as to the safe operation of the range. While I think that everyone using a firearm is responsible for where their rounds end up; I worry about the unintended consequences that potentially come from draconian restrictions or outright bans on shooting ranges.