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Backyard Beirut: Florida’s NRA-Loaded Gun Rules Drill Bullets In Local Ordinances

| November 4, 2011

In a backyard near you. (Terence T.S. Tam)

About a month ago, Sandy Dziak and her husband were riding horses on their 20-acre property in Lake County when they were jolted by an explosion.

“We heard what sounded like a cannon,” Dziak said. “And then we heard rounds whizzing over our heads.”

Their neighbor was doing some target shooting on his property. But because bullets travel thousands of feet, the rounds were were flying onto and over the Dziak’s property.

“We approached the shooter,” Dziak remembers, “and asked him, ‘Are you trying to kill us?’ ”

The man told them that he was within his rights and that there was nothing they could do about it. Dziak called police — only to find out that the man was right.

Her neighbor was violating previously established Lake County firearms and noise ordinances, but police told Dziak that because of a new state law, they could not impose any restrictions on him.

“The officer told me that he could be fined $5,000 and lose his job if he gave the guy a citation,” Dziak said.

It’s part of recently passed HB 45, signed into law in July by Gov. Rick Scott and put into effect Oct. 1 as part of Florida Statute 790.33. The intent of HB 45 was to make it easier for gun owners to carry weapons from one jurisdiction to another. It forcefully reasserted the 1987 law that reserved the right to set gun policy strictly to the state, making all local gun laws or rules “null and void.” And it threatened any local official who tried to enforce a local gun ordinance with a $5,000 fine and removal from office.

Only state law applies when it comes to guns. The problem is that, unlike local ordinances that impose noise and safety limits, state laws — heavily-influenced by National Rifle Association lobbying — focus more on gun rights than gun limits and things such as noise restrictions.

Dziak herself is no anti-gun zealot. She owns three guns and chats with amazing familiarity about things such as NRA standards for berms and backstops.

But she also doesn’t want to be forced into a foxhole on her own property.

“It’s a life-threatening situation,” she said. “And it isn’t just the bullets.  It’s also the noise. I had a horse rear up and fall back on one of our trainers. Another horse bolted on me.”

Her neighbor continued his free-wheeling shooting, spooking clients and $100,000 horses at her million-dollar equestrian center.

So Dziak continued to call the police. And they told her that if she kept calling, they’d have to arrest her for harassing her neighbor.

“I feel like I’ve entered the Twilight Zone,” she said.

Dziak contacted her state senator, Alan Hays, who told her that he voted for HB 45 because he believed it only pertained to issues of possession, not discharging, of firearms.

It’s not the first time that liberalizing gun laws has had unintended consequences in Florida. Part of the far-reaching overhaul of gun laws in 1987 had a loophole in it that allowed people to openly carry guns in public. People — some with notorious reputations – started walking South Florida streets with six-shooters on their hips. Six months later, lawmakers, who had gotten an earful from nervous constituents, closed the loophole.

Dziak said Hays promised to address the issue in Tallahassee, but she has not yet heard back from him. She also contacted former County Commissioner Linda Stewart, who replied with a mass e-mail urging folks to contact state lawmakers and complain about the new law.

“I am a gun owner and gun lover,” Stewart wrote. “I defend my right to bear arms very strongly.  My family has hunted for generations.  My son is a member of the NRA, but neither he nor I agree with this legislation.  It is irresponsible.”

In September, Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi’s office was contacted by concerned officials from Santa Rosa County and she responded:

“Particularly in light of its recent reaffirmation by the Legislature, section 790.33, Florida Statutes, provides a clear answer to your principal question: 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.”

Bondi cited a previous opinion that prohibited an Indian River County ordinance that forbade the discharge of firearms within 300 yards of a building or public road.

With the threat of removal from office hanging over them, local politicians throughout the state began undoing decades of gun restrictions. In Palm Beach County, commissioners had to do away with ordinances banning guns in child care centers. Boca Raton had to remove the “No guns allowed” sign from City Hall. In Orange County, workers removed “No firearms” signs from county parks. Groveland had to rescind an ordinance prohibiting the firing of guns into the air.

“It is the Wild West here in Palm Beach County,” said County Commissioner Burt Aaronson.

And Dziak had to start trying to figure out when her neighbor was away at work so she could schedule the training and exercising of her horses during those moments of peace.

“What the intent of the law was and what it’s actually done are two different things,” Dziak said. “What they’ve created is a situation where it’s a living hell for any person who lives next to somebody who has a gun.”

But there is one exception. State law doesn’t allow guns in meetings of elected officials.

–Ralph De La Cruz, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

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15 Responses for “Backyard Beirut: Florida’s NRA-Loaded Gun Rules Drill Bullets In Local Ordinances”

  1. Anita says:

    “Dziak herself is no anti-gun zealot. She owns three guns and chats with amazing familiarity about things such as NRA standards for berms and backstops.But she also doesn’t want to be forced into a foxhole on her own property.”

    This is nothing more than poetic justice. For years, the NRA has lobbied to impose more and more intrusive laws into the fabric of society, daring any who complain to challenge THEIR rights to own and carry. There are always going to be people who defiantly refuse to acknowledge boundaries in spite of NRA hype about safety; who don’t know what being a good neighbor is, or care about making rational decisions about the possibility of accidentally shooting and killing someone. Ideally, her neighbor should practice at a gun range, or is that suggestion also an infringement on his Rights. Dziak should complain directly to the NRA to work with people who really want to keep guns out of the hands of those who clearly don’t have the sense to be armed.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Welcome to the new Florida now…better wear a bullet or proof whatever you can get your hands on. Thank you Fascist Rick Scott…maybe luckily one of those gun totting green flagged target shooting bullies miss one your way. Thank you for the frightening update…was I ever thinking to retire somewhere quiet to the country side…?

  3. Kip Durocher says:

    It is just rick scott paying off his bribe money. You vote for a swindler that is what you get. I would bet a C note he even gets reelected. $100 million worth of sound bites should do it next time.
    Thanks again Florida repuglican voters.

  4. Sean Caranna says:

    784.05 Culpable negligence.—
    (1) Whoever, through culpable negligence, exposes another person to personal injury commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

    If this story is even remotely close to being true, the officer interviewed needs to be fired for dereliction of duty. He is not enforcing the law.

    Sean Caranna
    Executive Director
    Florida Carry, Inc.

  5. Tina Jeffe says:

    Is there no end to the callousness of our elected officials?! Hopefully some of them live next to a target shooter like the one next to Ms. Dziak. That might upend their comfort level !

  6. Rich7553 says:

    Section 790.33 Florida Statutes, the preemption statute, has been in place for 24 years (1987) and local governments have been violating that statute since that time with impunity.

    Never mind the fact that discharge of a firearm on public land or across a public roadway is a misdemeanor violation of s. 790.15 Florida Statutes. Never mind the fact that wantonly or maliciously shooting at, in, or into a public or private building, or vehicle occupied or not is a felony violation of s. 790.19 Florida Statutes. Never mind the fact negligent homicide is a felony violation of s. 782.07 Florida Statutes. Never mind the fact that culpable negligence resulting in the injury of another person is a misdemeanor violation of s. 784.05 Florida Statutes. Never mind the fact that nuisances which tend to annoy the community or injure the health of citizens in general are misdemeanor violations of s. 823.01 Florida Statutes. Never mind the fact that local noise ordinances, so long as they are not directed specifically at firearms, are still valid and enforceable.

    If local law enforcement cannot find and charge Ms. Dziak’s neighbor with one of the aforementioned violations, she either has no valid complaint and is merely seeking publicity and/or public sympathy, or law enforcement is not doing their job.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    Thank You Rick and Sean. Would not surprise me that the officer didn’t properly address the issue. Several years ago happened to me a couple of times…when I called the sheriff after midnight for a house pool party with loud music and screams where even drug paraphernalia was used besides underage drinking…in one occasion I was told by the deputy, that “he could understand my inconvenience and if he was me, he would sell and move away” and replied “what?” if you actually would properly address these violations the violators then maybe will sell and move, instead and I stood my ground. In another occasion with same issue on same location, they started calling the parents of the minors on the party, to come and pick them up and then came back to me and said…well as you may see we called several parents to p/up their kids as there was under age drinking and some drug paraphernalia was found as well. So, we (deputies) told the only adult there, the 18 years old son of the absent owner, that “next time we will take him in” . I replied, maybe if it was my son you will be taking him in to jail right now, instead? That was about 2005-06….Thanks to Karma those nuisances are gone now…by Divine Bank Foreclosure Justice in this case and well deserved. I sure believe that, what goes around comes around and…. I love it! Now peace reigns around here. The law interpretation should not be left to the eye of the beholder aka law enforcement officer.

  8. Liana G says:

    I don’t know what needs to be done about the noise, but I would actually prefer to hear the sound and know someone is shooting at something than not hear it at all. At least I’ll know to stay away if I so choose. I fully support these folks right to bear arms. This small remaining right that the people have left is the only right that keeps our intrusive gov’t from full fledged control of its citizens.

    School vouchers, gun rights, drug testing of those receiving tax payer dollars…hmm…I might vote for Rick Scott next election. Not too long ago, two school principals in Broward county were suspended (not fired) for having weed in their possession. For one of the principals, it was actually a side business she and her son were involved in. I don’t do drugs. I do, however,support the legalization of weed only because studies after studies show it to be harmless compared to legalized substances, but since this stuff is currently illegal, these folks should have exercised sound judgement. But then again, they weren’t fired so what the heck.

  9. Wyatt says:

    Now let me get this straight. This little lady was riding her little pony on 20 ACRES of land and heard some gun shots from her neighbors property 20 ACRES away. Well little lady, I would have to dis-agree with you and all who feel they can tell a land owner he can’t shoot his guns on his property.

  10. Mario says:

    There are many FL Statutes which protect citizens against violence from firearms. Please add those to this story so people don’t feel like they have a right to start shooting up the town. Thanks.

  11. John Ell says:

    Something very wrong about this story. A weapon is a dangerous tool in the wrong hands and when someone acts irresponsibly then the officer is within his rights to protect the public. The lady in question can pursue this matter further up the line of command.

    In this situation what would be the case if a stray bullet hit someone with severe results and possible manslaughter charges.

  12. Safetyguy62 says:

    The law is old. The new law serves to punish those in government service with penalties of jail time and a fine for not following the law.

    A weapon or firearm can be discharged on private property, any private property in the state of Florida. This is not new and to tell you the truth I am beginning to tire of people saying this is a new gun law, it is not. You cannot allow the projectile leave your property when you are shooting a firearm or other weapon such as an arrow. Noise ordinances must be complied with and some cases that will stop you from firing a firearm on your private property. Rich7553 is right on target. Make note what he said and learn it please? Then perhaps we can have some good discussions about weapon and firearm laws.

    Let’s all post signs everywhere that inform that guns are not allowed in any private building in Florida. That way the perps will know they have free range to terrorize the public without fear of running into a licensed weapon/firearm concealed carrier. Now that is just plain stupid, isn’t it?

  13. JC says:

    When shooting on private property, you must make sure the bullets DO NOT leave the property. If bullets do leave your property, and go onto or over the lands of another, you have TWO laws that can come into play under Florida Law…

    Trespass (yes, trespass)and/or Culpable Negligence (based on the totality of the circumstance)

    I have successfully charged Culpable Negligence in the past for shooting within a neighborhood in a careless manner (guy was shooting a .22 Long Rifle at black birds in his yard, in a very populated neighborhood).

    Unless there has been a change, it’s legal so long as you take precautions.

    Found this on another site (it’s old but still applies):

    Number: AGO 2005-40
    Date: July 12, 2005
    Subject: County ordinance re discharge of firearms

    The Honorable Roy Raymond
    Sheriff, Indian River County
    4055 41st Avenue
    Vero Beach, Florida 32960-1808

    RE: FIREARMS AND WEAPONS–COUNTIES–SHERIFFS–no authority for county to enact ordinance prohibiting discharge of firearms. s. 790.33, Fla. Stat.

    Dear Sheriff Raymond:

    You ask substantially the following question:

    May a county pass an ordinance prohibiting the discharge of a firearm in proximity to persons or property when such discharge endangers the health, welfare, and safety of the citizens of such county?

    This office has been advised that Indian River County joins in your request. You have proposed a county ordinance to prohibit the discharge of firearms within 300 yards of a building or public road or right-of-way in order to preserve the life and safety of the general public in Indian River County. The proposed ordinance specifies exceptions.[1] There remains a question, however, as to whether such an ordinance is prohibited by section 790.33, Florida Statutes.

    Section 790.33, Florida Statutes, preempts the field of regulation of firearms and ammunition to the Florida Legislature, as follows:

    “(1) PREEMPTION.– Except as expressly provided by general law, the Legislature hereby declares that it is occupying the whole field of regulation of firearms and ammunition, including the purchase, sale, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, and transportation thereof, to the exclusion of all existing and future county, city, town, or municipal ordinances or regulations relating thereto. Any such existing ordinances are hereby declared null and void. This subsection shall not affect zoning ordinances which encompass firearms businesses along with other businesses. Zoning ordinances which are designed for the purpose of restricting or prohibiting the sale, purchase, transfer, or manufacture of firearms or ammunition as a method of regulating firearms or ammunition are in conflict with this subsection and are prohibited.”

    While this office recognizes the need to protect the safety of the county’s citizens against the dangerous discharge of firearms in proximity to people and property, the Legislature has expressed its intent to preempt the regulation of firearms and to provide uniform firearms laws in the state. Any ordinance or regulation attempting to regulate firearms is stated to be null and void when enacted by jurisdictions other than the state or the federal government.[2] Relative to the discharge of firearms, section 790.15(1), Florida Statutes, states:

    “Except as provided in subsection (2) or subsection (3), any person who knowingly discharges a firearm in any public place or on the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street or whosoever knowingly discharges any firearm over the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street or over any occupied premises is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. This section does not apply to a person lawfully defending life or property or performing official duties requiring the discharge of a firearm or to a person discharging a firearm on public roads or properties expressly approved for hunting by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or Division of Forestry.”

    “Thus, in addition to expressly preempting the field of firearm regulation to the state, the Legislature has enacted legislation making it a crime to discharge firearms in any public place, with specified exceptions. It is well settled that absent a general law stating otherwise, local governments have no authority to regulate firearms in any manner.[3] Attempts to circumvent this preemption of firearm regulation have not been allowed.[4] Thus, despite the county’s concerns for the health, safety and welfare of its citizens, it may not enact an ordinance regulating the use of firearms.[5]

    Accordingly, it is my opinion that a county ordinance prohibiting the discharge of a firearm in proximity to persons or property when such discharge endangers the health, welfare, and safety of the citizens of such county would be preempted by section 790.33, Florida Statutes.”


  14. jac lebeau says:

    It’s sad but very true. We live in a Florida residential subdivision next to a jerk who shoots all kinds of guns in his yard day and night. The noise is incredible and there is nothing that can be done about it. Nothing!

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