VIA Electronic Mail August 5, 2021
RE: Proposed Guilford County Firearms Restrictions
Guilford County Commissioners:
I write today to express serious concerns with the proposed ordinance changes under consideration in File # 2021-294. The proposed amendments would significantly restrict citizens in Guilford County from exercising their Second Amendment rights as well as their constitutional right to hunt. It also appears the changes would be outside the authority of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
The Guilford County Code of Ordinances at issue here can be broken down into two categories: (1) the discharge of firearms and (2) a noise ordinance restriction related to the discharge of firearms. The proposed changes to both ordinance sections suffer from major flaws.
My understanding is that the proposed changes to Code Section 11-1 (“Discharge of firearms”) would:
- Prohibit shooting—including when hunting—within 150 yards of structures designed for occupation by humans, animals, or livestock.
- Prohibit shooting—including when hunting—within 150 yards from a road, street, or highway that lies in the direction of the shooting.
- Restrict “shooting ranges” to the use of only fixed, stationary targets. ● Violations of this ordinance would result in a Class III misdemeanor along with a $500 criminal fine and could result in an additional $500 civil fine.
- A landowner—who is not even present during the discharge of any firearms—would be subject to a $500 civil penalty.
Guilford County cites NCGS § 153A-129 as their authority to pass these regulations. However, that statute specifically prohibits counties from regulating, restricting, or prohibiting the time or place for the discharge of firearms as it relates to hunting.
Of even greater concern, in 2018 the voters of North Carolina passed, with 57% of the vote, a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of the people to hunt. See N.C. Const. Art. 1 Sec. 38. That constitutional provision provides that the people’s right to hunt is “subject only to laws enacted by the General Assembly and rules adopted pursuant to authority granted by the General Assembly to (i) promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) preserve the future of hunting and fishing.” While the proposed Guilford County ordinance neither seeks to promote wildlife conservation nor preserve the future of hunting, the more definitive measure of legality here is that the General Assembly has not authorized the County to pass such regulations on hunting. In fact, they have specifically prohibited it.
My understanding is that the proposed changes to Code Section 11-8 (“Annoying and disturbing noises”) would:
- Make it illegal to repetitively discharge firearms between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- Make it illegal to repetitively discharge firearms for 2 hours consecutively or 3 hours cumulatively between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.—including at shooting and sporting clay ranges.
This ordinance would empower the County to send the Sheriff onto private property to enforce the County’s mandate and to impose possible punishments as follows:
- Written warning
- Civil penalties
- $200 for first offense
- $400 for second offense in one year
- $500 for 3+ offenses in one year
In 1997, the General Assembly enacted the “Sport Shooting Range Protection Act,” which, generally, protects owners, operators, and patrons of sport shooting ranges from any civil liability or criminal prosecution relating to any new nuisance laws or other noise control ordinances. The ordinance now being considered by Guilford County would, for all practical purposes, ban both commercial and private shooting and sporting clay ranges.
Moreover, with few exceptions, the General Assembly has declared “that the regulation of firearms is properly an issue of general, statewide concern, and that the entire field of regulation of firearms is preempted from regulation by local governments . . . .” NCGS § 14-409.40(a). None of the permitted avenues of county regulation would appear applicable to Guilford County’s regulation of the number of times a firearm can be discharged.
Furthermore, NCGS § 14-409.40(h) provides that “[a] person adversely affected by any ordinance, rule, or regulation promulgated or caused to be enforced by any county or municipality in violation of this section may bring an action for declaratory and injunctive relief and for actual damages arising from the violation. The court shall award the prevailing party in an action brought under this subsection reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs as authorized by law.” Your Board would be well served to seriously consider the potential legal ramifications of the adoption of the proposed changes.
In conclusion, these proposed changes raise numerous practical, statutory, and constitutional concerns. What has been provided herein merely scratches the surface. In any event, it appears quite likely that the adoption of these regulations would be an ultra vires act by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. Accordingly, I urge you to vote no on these considered changes.
Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can be of further assistance on this matter.
Philip R. Thomas
Chief Counsel & Strategy Director
North Carolina Republican Party