Florida: Backyard shooting ranges sparking controversy (VIDEO)

Doug Varrieur enjoying his Wednesday afternoon ‘gun day’ in the comfort of his own yard.

Doug Varrieur enjoying his Wednesday afternoon ‘gun day’ in the comfort of his own yard.

A long-standing Florida law allowing citizens to set up shooting ranges in their backyards is receiving a lot of publicity across the state, leading to calls for its repeal.

These ranges on private property, permitted under a 1987 law that was enhanced in 2011, are legal in the Sunshine State, provided they follow a few simple rules.

Florida statute 790.15, essentially says any person can discharge a firearm on private property so long as it is done in a safe manner and the bullet’s path does not pass over a paved public road or any occupied premises.

Though, despite these provisions, the law has sparked some outrage from those who live next to these private ranges.   

“It’s about the safety issue,” said Lake Worth resident Sheila Lowe, owner of a home in an equestrian community. “Own your gun, but don’t shoot your gun in my back yard. Don’t shoot where there’s people and animals that can get hurt.”

"It's absurdity at the worst level,” says Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper who is against backyard shooting ranges. (Photo credit: hallandalebeachfl.gov)

“It’s absurdity at the worst level,” says Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper who is against backyard shooting ranges. (Photo credit: hallandalebeachfl.gov)

Lowe contends that her neighbor, David Englert, who maintains a range on his 80-acre residence and nursery,  has stray rounds fired from his property fly overhead, scaring her and the people who come to ride horses.

But Englert doesn’t buy it.

“I’m a licensed holder, so I’m very conscious of whatever happens,” Englert said. “I am concerned (with safety); that’s why I practice my target practice safely and making sure I comply with the law.”

While the state allows local counties to regulate commercial sports shooting ranges it does not allow counties to interfere with private shooting ranges. Under a 2011 amendment to the law signed by Gov. Rick Scott, cities and counties that interfere with the state’s firearms code can be subject to a $5000 fine.

However, many in the state had little idea the law existed until recently the case of Doug Varrieur went viral.

Varrieur, 57, built his range so that he and his wife could practice without having to drive a 50-mile round trip and spent $45 per hour at a the nearest commercially run range.

For the cost of $600 in materials, he constructed a DIY shooting range that soon drew media attention across the state, to the dismay of the local county sheriff.

“I honestly had hoped no one would catch wind of it and it would become public knowledge,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said of the state law that pre-empts local ordinances. “I’m concerned now that people know. This isn’t about the right to own and bear arms. My concern is public safety and quality of life.”

In December of last year, Bruce Fleming, a Volusia County man was accidentally struck and killed by a round believed to come from an adjacent property that was initially blamed on a neighbor’s backyard range.

The increased spotlight is causing many Florida towns and counties to press the state for more regulatory authority of private ranges.

This week the mayor of Sunrise approved a resolution urging the state to allow cities to restrict gun use on private property. Other cities, such as Boynton Beach and Hallandale Beach are looking at similar resolutions of their own.

Pam Bondi, the state's Attorney General has in the past issued opinions protecting backyard ranges, although they have been vanishing from the state’s webpage in recent weeks. (Photo credit: myflordialegal.com)

Pam Bondi, the state’s Attorney General has in the past issued opinions protecting backyard ranges, although they have been vanishing from the state’s webpage in recent weeks. (Photo credit: myflordialegal.com)

“It’s gotten to the point of absurdity that things like this are taking place and we are handcuffed from regulating it,” Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper said. “It’s absurdity at the worst level.”

Pam Bondi, the state’s Attorney General has been getting phone calls all month about the recent media coverage of the existing law.

In a 2011 opinion, she detailed that, “a county may not regulate the recreational discharge of firearms in residentially zoned areas when the discharge is not on a ‘shooting range,’ but merely recreational shooting on private property.”

This opinion was dropped this week from the Attorney General’s website but is still maintained inside the 2011-12 Biennial report (pdf) available online.

Marion Hammer, past-President and current lobbyist for the NRA in Florida, spoke with Guns.com on the issue.

“This issue of shooting ranges in neighborhoods is a contrived effort by South Florida officials who are angry because the legislature put penalties in the law for local officials who violate the pre-emption law.”

Meanwhile, those with backyard ranges in the state continue to use and enjoy them.

Doug Varrieur continues to use his range every Wednesday from 3-4pm to retain proficiency. On his facebook page  he noted this Thursday, “Yesterday was GUN DAY! Damn I love gun day, had a blast!”

Clarification on Bruce Flemming shooting mentioned above added 2/16/2014 6:31pm.

Initial coverage posted on the Volusa County incident at the Ocala Post, NBC Miami, and The Daytona Beach News Journal was that the round suspected of striking Mr. Flemming came from property adjacent to his and mentioned a backyard range that was initially thought to be the source of the round then later dismissed.  A further story that came out the December 27 from NBC Miami mentioned that a “man admitted to firing the shotgun but said he didn’t know he hit anyone. His name has not been released.” We have removed the rawstory link and updated the article.