9 Investigates: Loophole in Florida law banning backyard gun ranges

9 Investigates: Loophole in Florida law banning backyard gun ranges

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — On Feb. 24, Gov. Rick Scott closed what many viewed as a dangerous loophole in state law. 
 
Scott, surrounded by law enforcement, and with the blessing of the National Rifle Association, signed SB130, into law, which restricts backyard shooting ranges. Under the new law, backyard gun ranges are prohibited if the population density is greater than one person per acre. 
 
While the law essentially ended the practice of setting up gun ranges in densely packed neighborhoods, it left several gray areas. One of the gray areas created another loophole in Lake County.
 
"Nobody wants to buy a house with a gun range in the backyard," Eustis resident Tom Johnston said.
 
Johnston, a retired Navy veteran and NRA member, is at odds with the family that lives behind his home, which is in the 44 Gables subdivision in Eustis. Those homes are on less than an acre of land each, however, the home with the gun range is outside the subdivision, in the county and on several acres of land.
 
"I bought my house seven years ago because it's nice and quiet," Johnston said. "These noises are loud and you don't know when (my neighbor) will start firing."
 
"I shoot out there three, maybe four time a week," gun range owner Jonas Morgan said.
 
Morgan is a certified NRA Instructor and owns Morgan's Gun Vault in Leesburg. Morgan said the range is faced away from homes and that his berm, a mound that stops the bullets, is built to NRA standards. 
 
"If you don't want me shooting on Wednesdays, I won't shoot on Wednesdays. If you don't want me shooting on Sundays because it is a day of rest, I won't shoot on Sundays," Morgan said. "But they also need to respect my rights."
 
Morgan's range faces an unpaved road with a large orange grove on the other side. However, the back side of his home is bordered by nine single-family homes. While there are some tall trees and fences to mitigate the noise, residents have recorded the sound of gunfire from blocks away, saying it's not a safety issue, but rather one of noise.
 
"It's extremely loud. It's explosions going off," Johnston said. "I asked the sheriff can't we have this stopped by way of noise abatement, but he told me the rule and laws do not consider gun fire."
 
The Lake County Sheriff's Office reports being called to the gun range 17 times in the last year. Deputies told 9 Investigates they have asked for an opinion from State Attorney Pam Bondi on the issue, citing the need for clarification of the law.