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County mulls doubling fine for hobby shooters whose stray bullets menace neighbors

·3 min read

A month after passing a $500 fine for recreational shooters whose bullets stray onto neighboring properties, Sedgwick County is aiming to pass two measures that together could raise the penalty to $1,000.

The companion proposals on the Dec. 1 County Commission agenda are a follow-up to the Nov. 3 passage of a law requiring backyard target shooters to confine flying lead to their own property.

During debate on that measure, Commissioner Lacey Cruse argued that the $500 fine was not enough to deter unsafe shooting and may not generate enough money to pay for the law’s enforcement.

Jim Howell, who proposed the measure largely to protect a Derby housing development in the line of fire, said he couldn’t propose a larger fine until the county took action to raise the ceiling on its fines structure to $1,000, the maximum allowed by state law.

“When I advocated for passing the original law, I said this $500 was the highest we could go at the time and it would require another resolution to change that,” Howell said. “I had the intention at that time to change it to $1,000. This is one way to get that done.”

Cruse was the only commissioner to vote against the shooting restriction when it passed 4-1.

“I told her one step at a time, I couldn’t do it all at one time,” said Howell. “She voted against it still.”

Cruse did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Commissioner David Dennis said he was surprised to see the revised fine structure on the agenda.

“When Jim brought it up, there was some discussion that maybe the $500 wasn’t high enough of a fine, but we have not discussed that at all,” Dennis said. “I don’t know if I’d be opposed to it. We do want to make sure that people don’t fire into someone else’s yard.

“I know we talked about it at the (Nov. 3) meeting that maybe the fine wasn’t high enough,” he said, but added “I guess we haven’t given it much time at this point to see if it was working at $500.”

County code violations are ranked by severity of offense from Class A with a $5 fine to Class I, a $500 fine.

A search of the county code revealed no actual Class A or B violations still on the books.

The lowest appears to be Class C, a $20 fine for various minor parking infractions.

Examples of Level I violations include illegal dumping, riding a dirt bike in the Big Ditch, installing a manufactured home without a license and pretty much any violation related to adult entertainment.

The proposal before the county would create a Class J violation level carrying a $1,000 fine.

If that’s approved, the next item on the Dec. 1 agenda would be to make discharging firearms across property boundaries the county’s first Level J violation.

The issue of stray bullets from recreational shooting came to the commission via complaints from residents of the Northbrook Addition, a fairly new development that is part of the city of Derby, off Woodlawn south of 55th Street South.

Residents there reported bullets and shotgun pellets whizzing through their neighborhood, endangering people, pets and property.

The bullets were coming from nearby Joel Road, across the city line in the unincorporated county, where recreational shooting is permitted.

The Joel Road neighbors have large lots and a longtime tradition of target shooting in backyard ranges, with bullet backstops varying widely in size and effectiveness.

The law passed in November, which applies across the unincorporated county, was the first time the county has mandated that recreational shooters not allow their misses and ricochets to careen through neighboring properties.

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