Gun ordinance was met with backlash in 2012, so they’re keeping it quieter this time

Tyler Murtha shoots a pistol at the Horry Chapter Wildlife Action range near Aynor.
Tyler Murtha shoots a pistol at the Horry Chapter Wildlife Action range near Aynor. jlee@thesunnews.com

The Horry County Council is reviving a proposal restricting the discharge of firearms on private property that was dropped in 2012 after overwhelming opposition by gun owners.

But this time, officials are keeping a tighter lid on the details.

Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti resurrected the 2012 ordinance that he says is still on his computer and offered it for reconsideration to county councilmen tasked with tackling complaints from some residents that guns are being fired too close to their homes.

Carotti told council members last week that the original measure caused a public backlash when it was inadvertently made public in 2012. When asked for a copy of the original proposal, the county employee declined to release it to the Sun News citing attorney-client privilege.

“There was a draft ordinance that was circulated in-house and was inadvertently made public without having gone through the full vetting of staff or council, and that created a bit of a furor in public,” Carotti told councilmen on the Public Safety Committee.

The ordinance considered in 2012 would have made it illegal to discharge any firearm or bow of which any bullet, shot or missile may be projected within 1,200 feet of any park, public building or school, or within 900 feet of any business or dwelling, according to published reports.

One of the key differences under discussion this year is to limit the restrictions in unincorporated Horry County to areas near platted subdivisions, property that have been surveyed and recorded with the Register of Deeds.

“You may want to extend that not only from within the subdivision, but a certain distance from around it as well,” Carotti told the councilmen.

Councilman Johnny Vaught agreed, and said the problem is not shooting within neighborhoods, but discharging weapons in wooded areas near the subdivisions.

“The sad part of this whole deal, there’s just a few people out there being irresponsible,” Vaught said.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Al Allen directed Carotti to send copies of that 2012 ordinance to the police chief, sheriff, Wildlife Action, and shooting range businesses to ensure that those affected are on board with new changes and don’t feel their Second Amendment rights are threatened.

“I know that’s asking a lot, but this is a very important subject and we need to be cautious and very, very careful in how we do it,” Allen said.

“And everybody needs to be on board because we have found in the past when we have started this, there’s not just standing room in the building, but standing room outside,” Allen said.

As to why Carotti would not make the proposed ordinance publicly available, Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said the document “was never made public in a public forum and remains a document under attorney-client privilege.”

“He plans to adjust that document with the feedback he heard from the Public Safety Committee and provide various options for consideration at the next Public Safety Committee meeting in January,” Bourcier said in a statement.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, questioned the attorney-client claim stating that the original document is a public record and subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

“It’s absurd on its face,” Rogers said. “It’s a public document and the public should be able to see it.”

“The public might think they are trying to pull a fast one,” Rogers said.

The issue arose after Pine Valley Estates resident William Wood complained in June that gunfire from outside his neighborhood was noisy and endangered lives. Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus directed the council’s Public Safety Committee then to begin studying the issue and whether legal restrictions are needed.

Most councilmen say they are trying to avoid a countywide ban or conflicting with Second Amendment rights, and discussion turned earlier this year to opening a gun range using some public funding as an alternative to target shooting on private land.

"We need to get a lot more aggressive and proactive in finding a place that would be appropriate for a firing range, for people that do want to shoot their guns, so they just don't meander out into the woods - they do have a safe place to fire their weapons, " Lazarus said at the time.

However, that idea was stalled after residents turned out in force to oppose a target range proposed off S.C. Highway 90.

There is no ordinance for Horry County that regulates the discharging of weapons for target practice. State law addresses where guns can be fired for hunting, and states that weapons cannot be shot within 300 yards of a residence without the property owner's permission.

Bill Wiegand is a gun rights supporter who opposed the council’s actions in 2012. But Wiegand says he supports reviving the effort if the restrictions are within subdivisions and near schools and parks with a limited buffer zone.

“They’re just trying to protect people is all they are trying to do,” Wiegand said. “I’m all for gun rights, they just have to use common sense.”

There has been no discussion during council meetings as to what the penalty would be for violating the ordinance, or how it would be enforced by police.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson