Residents ask for mercy from backyard shootings and stray bullets

Ed Whitner shoots skeet on a private range near Aynor.
Ed Whitner shoots skeet on a private range near Aynor. jlee@thesunnews.com

More than 70 residents gathered here Wednesday for the public hearing on a proposed law to restrict gun use in the county.

A large contingency of residents from Wild Wing Plantation and Myrtle Trace Grande say the ordinance doesn’t go far enough and should include buffer zones to ban gunfire outside of their neighborhoods.

“There are people discharging firearms almost in our backyard and right outside our back door,” said Barbara Eisenhardt of Wild Wing. “It’s not fair to the people who don’t want to be subjected to stray bullets.”

Myrtle Trace Grande residents said their problems also stem from outside their community, where they say as many as 13 shots are fired daily and at night.

They don’t know the name of that community or the address, “because it’s too dangerous to go in,” one resident said.

“We’re at the mercy of the county,” the resident said.

Gun enthusiasts were in agreement that such behavior needs to be stopped, but argued that this ordinance won’t do the job that the council intended.

“If someone shoots in their backyard, they need to do it property and safely,” one county resident said.

The proposed ordinance has been months in the making to ban backyard target practice in major residential areas, but no one who spoke said the end result was to their liking.

Numerous residents who don’t live in HOAs, but on larger private lots near wooded areas or swamps, and use backstops when they practice, were sympathetic with those being harassed by reckless gunfire.

Property owners with private gun ranges for personal use and sporting events who will be most affected by the proposed ordinance also pleaded with the council to allow them to continue target shooting, and suggested that permits be issued and safety checks conducted by the police department.

They also questioned whether a “major residential development,” as defined in the proposed ordinance, should apply to sparsely populated neighborhoods of 11 housing lots.

Larry Hockman, who lives off Highway 90, said he agreed that shooting firearms should be banned in Carolina Forest and acknowledged that there’s “a few ignorant people running around” who don’t know how to properly handle or fire a gun.

But in the country, he said there’s often a need to fire weapons near his home.

“There’s a lot of critters crawling out of that river,” Hockman said.

He said police should be using laws already on the books to “enforce common sense.”

After numerous members of the public spoke, some councilmen defended the simplicity of the ordinance while others argued that it went too far, or not far enough.

“I see this ordinance is going absolutely nowhere,” said Councilman Harold Worley.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said that many good points were made by the public, like permitting private property gun ranges.

He also agreed that 11 home lots was an arbitrary number that could be reviewed, as well as the need for a buffer zone.

“It is a big issue that we need to find common ground on so we can all make it work,” Lazarus said.

“This isn’t something we’re going to rush,” Lazarus said. “But I hope we’re not just kicking the can down the road because we have real issues.”

Councilman Johnny Vaught defended the ordinance as written.

“We don’t need to make people prove they are being safe, we need to bust people who aren’t being safe,” Vaught said.

Some council members and residents questioned whether laws for noise, assault, reckless endangerment or discharge could be used to crack down on irresponsible gun owners.

The council asked that Police Chief Joseph Hill and county staff reported back to them by June as to whether they have the enforcement tools needed to deal with residents who recklessly fire guns or bows onto other people’s property, endangering lives, animals or personal property.

Councilman Bill Howard said he believes the laws necessary to enforce safety already exist.

“We don’t want to make this thing complicated, that’s why we’re listening to you,” Howard told the audience.

After the June police briefing, the ordinance will go back to the public safety committee for review, which puts the timetable for possible passage later this summer.

The ordinance as written would prohibit bows rifles, guns, pistols, revolvers “or other similar instrument from or by means of which any bullet, shot or other missile of any kind may be projected in a manner as to be likely to cause bodily injury or death to persons or domestic animals or damage to or destruction of property, or to enter the property of another without prior permission so to do.”

Firing the weapons intentionally or accidentally would be prohibited in any neighborhood with more than 11 housing lots, and only affects unincorporated Horry County.

The ordinance does not prevent anyone from firing a weapon in defense of life or property.

The maximum fine for breaking the law would be $500 or 30 days in jail, but Councilman Danny Hardee suggested the law needs more a stronger deterrent.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson