Varrieur, 57, discovered a little-noticed part of Florida law
which prohibits local governments from restricting gun rights in any
way, and in December he set up a personal gun range on his property
in a residential subdivision.
Neighbors were outraged by the live gunfire, but their surprise was
nothing compared to that of municipal leaders, who were shocked to
realize there was nothing they could do about it.
"The rational gun owners I speak to realize this is lunacy," said
Michael Ryan, the mayor of Sunrise, in southeast Florida.
Ryan, a lawyer by trade, is one of numerous city and county leaders
now trying to regain some control over recreational gunfire in their
communities, particularly in dense urban zones.
Palm Beach and Broward counties in south Florida have a lawsuit
pending to overturn the law, noting that it forced them to rescind
restrictions, for example, on taking guns into child care
But in a state known as the "Gunshine State" for its loose gun laws,
few expect the Republican-dominated Florida legislature to make any
"You can slice and dice it anyway you want, but there's an accident
waiting to happen," said Rick Ramsay, the Sheriff of Monroe County,
where Varrieur's gun range is located.
Ramsay and Ryan point to the death of 69-year-old Bruce Fleming in
Deltona near Orlando on Christmas morning. Fleming was struck
apparently by accident by a shotgun blast from a neighbor's
property. The shooting remains under investigation.
Varrieur, an author of diet books, set up his shooting target on
December 26 after he and his wife bought his-and-her pistols for
Christmas, and baulked at the 70-mile round trip to the nearest
commercial gun range to practice shooting.
Under Florida Statute 790, gun control is solely under state, not
local, jurisdiction. The only state restriction on recreational
shooting on private residential property is that the bullets cannot
fly over a paved public road or an occupied dwelling, and that shots
cannot be "reckless or negligent."
Legislators in 2011 put teeth into the law by imposing a $5,000 fine
and authorizing the governor to remove from office any local
government official who attempts to restrict gun use.
Although nothing in the state law specifically required him to try
to block errant bullets, Varrieur mounted his target on a 7 X 7-foot
backstop which he installed against a 12-foot-tall shed. When he
fires his weapon, Varrieur is shooting in the direction of a canal
used by boaters to reach open water.
Varrieur said he stations his wife and father on the edge of the
canal to warn him if a boat is coming. And he said he informs the
sheriff's department of when he will be shooting.
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Recognizing that other gun owners will want to follow his lead,
Varrieur now offers upon request instructions for building his
backstop and his personal set of "Varrieur Range Rules," which
recommend weapons should not exceed a .357 Magnum and a ban on
"My passion is to make sure they are safe, safe, safe," Varrieur
After seeing a news account about the controversy in the Keys over
Varrieur's gun range, mayor Ryan wrote in February to Governor Rick
Scott asking him to explicitly promise not to exercise his authority
to remove from office any local public official who imposes
reasonable restrictions on target shooting in residential
Scott, through his general counsel, responded, telling Ryan it would
be "prudent" to wait until the Palm Beach and Broward lawsuits are
The Broward lawsuit complains that the law is unconstitutional
because it violates the separation of powers by giving the governor
the ability to remove local officials from office. Under current
law, the governor is only allowed to suspend local officials.
Ramsay said he believes a shooter could be arrested if a deputy
witnesses a bullet flying over his or her property lines under the
"reckless or negligent" prohibition in the law. But Ramsay said he
has instructed his deputies to seek legal advice before attempting
"The irony is if someone wants to put in an addition to their home
or an in-ground pool, they have to come through code enforcement and
zoning. Here we can't say anything," Ryan said.
(Editing by David Adams and Nick Zieminski)
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