Sebastian County officials debate firearms complaint

story by Aric Mitchell

The Sebastian County Quorum Court will not act on complaints from county resident Jamie Mitchell regarding the discharge of firearms in an unincorporated area of the county. Mitchell brought the complaint before court members in late 2011, stating that neighbor Charles Parker was “discharging .50 caliber weapons within 75 feet of his home.”

Responding to a question from court members regarding whether he’d approached Parker about the problem, Mitchell claimed that he had, and that Parker’s response was, “There’s no law against it.”

Parker was not in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting (Feb. 21) to share his side, nor was he at the Dec. 20 meeting, when Mitchell originally brought the complaint to court members.

“This is not a Second Amendment issue. I’m simply stating this is a safety issue. Don’t make it more than what it is,” Mitchell said, asking the county to act on his behalf and prevent the discharge of firearms “within an unsafe distance from an occupied dwelling.”

Mitchell continued: “I don’t want to tell someone what they can do on their property. I’m asking for my child’s life not to be put in danger. I have the right to expect the county to stand beside me and say that it’s dangerous.”

Court member Shawn Looper agreed that Mitchell has a legitimate complaint but seemed uncomfortable with the idea of the court regulating the use of firearms in unincorporated areas of the county.

Court member Leo Faulkner, however, warned that the time was near to take action.

“I think we’re very close to having to do something. Whether we like it or not, we are rapidly approaching the time to put in some restrictions. As we continue to grow, the complaints about this sort of thing are going to grow. Whether it’s the next couple years, five years, ten years, we’re going to need control like in other counties,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner’s reference to the “other counties” refers to emergency ordinances by Benton and Pulaski Counties that regulated the use of firearms within a certain distance of the Bella Vista Village Property Owners’ Association and within a mile of a person’s residence without permission of the landowner or the owner of the residence, respectively.

Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue told The City Wire that the quorum court could decide to get into the realm of regulation, but that “obviously they seem extremely reluctant to do so, at least for tonight,” noting the quorum court “has never done this before,” so there is no legal precedent.

Sebastian County Judge David Hudson told court members that if regulation was something they wished to consider, he wouldn’t feel comfortable unless there were citizens of the county living in the unincorporated areas aiding in the evaluation process.

Mitchell left prior to the end of the meeting but not before leaving court members with these words: “My family’s welfare depends on you saying it’s too dangerous to discharge a weapon. If someone wants to give me $5,000, so I can afford a lawyer to take care of this on my own, you’ll never hear from me again. But if you can’t see the danger involved here, then you are blind.”

“He (Mitchell) needs to litigate the matter. Safety issues don’t bow to constitutional issues. For every wrong, the law provides a remedy. Sometimes it’s criminal. Sometimes it’s civil,” Shue said after the meeting.

Shue continued: “He could present his side to a judge and the judge could say, ‘Okay, I’m prohibiting you from discharging firearms on this property.’ I have done that before on a slightly similar case. Someone was firing across an easement, and we went in and got it stopped, and from there, the judge issued a permanent injunction.”

Asked whether he believed Mitchell had a case, Shue responded: “Who would win is not for me to say. Remember, we have not heard the other side of this story. We don’t know which neighbor moved to the other neighbor, or if the neighbor has proper safety measures in place to discharge firearms.”

After abstaining on the discharge of firearms in the unincorporated areas of the county, quorum court members approved appropriation of additional expenditures for county offices in the 2012 budget. The total amount was close to $2.2 million with the bulk coming from the Road Fund ($730,908), the Capital Reserve Fund ($547,446), and the General Fund ($720,005).

Judge Hudson noted that Ben Geren Park’s sports facilities will receive much of the attention, including two new aerifiers for the golf course; a golf cart replacement plan; more soccer fields; resurfacing of tennis courts; softball field improvements; the addition of nine new holes to the disk golf course; and a variety of fencing and lighting enhancements.

Other expenditures included in the appropriation ordinance include six vehicle replacements to the Sheriff’s fleet ($174,000) and $611,489 worth of new equipment for the road department.

Also Tuesday night, the quorum court voted to increase residential solid waste collection and disposal rates within the unincorporated areas of Sebastian County from $13.50 to $14.17 per month.

To close, the court issued three resolutions: 1) vacating the Office of Constable for the Upper Township following the death of former constable Jim Hill; 2) authorizing the application of a rural community grant for Big Creek Rural Volunteer Fire Department; and 3) urging the Air Force and the Department of Defense to retain the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith.