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As developments continue to take up more land in Pender County, an addition to a 1995 ordinance may protect the way gun shops do business and fire weapons.
During a recent meeting for the Board of Commissioners, officials discussed grandfathering in firearm places established before a certain date, with Jan. 1, 2022, being an example.
The matter was brought up by commissioner George Brown.
"Some of these gun shops will test fire these firearms with a customer," Brown said. "Years ago, it wasn't an issue because it wasn't that crowded and there weren't that many people."
A chapter of the Pender County Code of Ordinances says it's unlawful for any person to discharge a firearm within 200 feet of any place of human habitation, church or school within the county.
Pender County staff members and legal counsel were directed to add a grandfathering addition to the ordinance. A final decision for the amendment would have to be made by county board members after a public hearing.
"We want to make sure our businesses are protected, too," Brown said. "The ones that have been there for as long as they have, so the new development does not encroach on them. We're just trying to keep everyone safe and legal."
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Northeast Sporting Goods has been around for 57 years and it's one of the few that existed before the ordinance. It was started by the late John A. Casha Jr.
His son Keith Casha is now continuing the Rocky Point business — an area that's expected to have more developments.
"Right now, I'm not within 200 feet of anybody, but if it gets developed across the street, that will change," he said. "It's not like I just want to go out there and shoot a gun. A lot of people think that."
To make sure used firearms customers bring in to trade or sell work, he said the guns are fired on the store's property. He compared the process to a car dealership testing a used vehicle.
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"Nine times out of 10, that dealer is going to test drive it," he said. "If I wanted to buy a car from you, I wouldn't just give you my money, say thank you, and walk out the door with it. That's the same principal with mainly semi-automatic weapons because they have a chance of jamming or if the gun is worn out, especially some of the older ones, they jam and can't be fixed."
Casha added that guns are fired safely into a dirt embankment.
As a business owner, Casha said he doesn't want unhappy customers or neighbors. He said the process is something people moving to the area don't understand, especially if they grew up in cities where there is more crime.
"You hear gun shots, people are kind of apprehensive of it," he said. "That's understood, but we've been here for almost 60 years."
Surf City Guns and Ammo is not allowed to fire weapons because of regulations through Surf City and Holly Ridge in Onslow County. But manager Dorothy Royal said it's a matter that's becoming a serious issue due to growth in the area with people wanting to protect their firearm businesses.
"It definitely needs to be addressed because more and more people are moving and more and more people are feeling entitled that things have to change," she said. "A lot of these manufactures moved here because there was farm land surrounding them and a lot of space between them and their neighbors. Now, all of a sudden a lot of these farms are becoming subdivisions."
For Royal, a lot of it boils down to noise. Surf City Guns and Ammo offers safety classes for kids and adults, and for concealed and carry permits. They have to travel to the Hampstead area to teach shooting lessons.
"Nobody likes noise," Royal added. "There's not a gun owner out there in the world who says 'I like shooting my gun and hurting my eardrums.' Until they make the Hearing Protection Act accessible where everyone can put a suppressor on their firearms to cut down the noise by 60%, we're always going to have it."
Royal also added that there's misconceptions about how close a weapon is being fired and not having an environment to break up noise. One example was hearing sounds from Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune.
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"It comes right through the (pine) trees," she said about the sounds. "For the person who moves here for the first time, it seems like they're right in the backyard, and they're not."
She said there has been complaints with people calling them if they hear gunshots in the area. Royal said gun places get blamed for everything in the area, especially during hunting season.
"They don't realize how much of Pender County is game land," Royal said. "If you live in a subdivision and you hear shooting and you're not familiar with hunting, then you have to blame the first thing that comes across your mind, which is going to be a gun business. Nobody blames the military base, it's always the gun business."
What are the exceptions?
According to Sec. 24-70 under Article IV - Discharge of Firearms in Close Proximity To places of Human Habitation, the rules do not apply to the following:
- To people discharging a firearm within 200 feet of their own home, residence or place of human habitation which they occupy lawfully as owner, lessee, or invitee, so long as they have the permission of the owner, or lessee of such structure to discharge the firearm
- For anyone discharging firearms used lawfully in defense of person or property in accordance with the laws of the state
- Authorized law enforcement officers discharging firearms in the course and scope of their law enforcement duties, or to persons discharging weapons under the lawful directions of a law enforcement officer acting within the course and scope of their official law enforcement duties
- Indoor firing ranges operating under a permit issued by the county
- People who have obtained the written permission of all owners, and lessees or other owners of possessory interests in places of human habitation within the area set forth in section 24-69
- To people who utilize firearms discharging blank cartridges in the training of animals.
Reporter Chase Jordan can be reached at [email protected]
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