What's The Law On Firearm Target Practice In Chattanooga? - And Response (2)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

All my life I’ve been plagued by people citing unwritten rules and regulations that are always news to me. As a child, a boy, a man, there’s been a steady stream of those who pretend to explain things to me, while really just voicing their personal opinions. Such explanations are usually intended to insult, embarrass, humiliate, or intimidate the victim. 

I can handle facts; as an engineer I routinely work with facts that describe and define and limit what can be done. But I can’t operate effectively with incorrect information, whether it’s from sincerely mistaken or deliberately deceptive people.  

Right now I have one simple public request: I want to know the real laws of Chattanooga concerning guns and shooting in Chattanooga. A recent experience indicates that it’s in the public interest to publish the details here. 

The other day an excellent Chattanooga Police officer stopped by my home, saying he’d received a complaint about gunfire. Well, yes, my friend was way up in the woods behind the house, trying out his new shotgun. The policeman really was a nice and friendly and patient guy, but he firmly informed me that it is illegal to shoot any gun anywhere inside the city limits.  

That’s where I became confused, because long ago I checked the Chattanooga City Code of Ordinances online, and this is all I could find on the subject: 

Sec. 25-6. Target or practice shooting.
(a) It shall be unlawful to target practice with a firearm without the express written consent of the owner of the property, either public or private, where such target practice occurs. Such written consent shall be on the person of the shooter while shooting. It shall further be unlawful to discharge a firearm on any property, public or private, with or without consent, wherein such discharge endangers adjacent or neighboring property, either public or private, or the owners or tenants thereof. It shall further be unlawful to discharge a firearm on any property, public or private, with or without such written consent, wherein such discharge disturbs nearby residents or businesses. 

(b) For the purposes of this section, the term "firearm" shall mean any weapon from which a shot is discharged by force of an explosive or a weapon which acts by force of gunpowder, and shall also include all weapons which expel a projectile by means of the expansion of compressed air and/or carbon dioxide; the term "disturbs" shall mean to create a loud or obnoxious noise; the term "endangers" shall mean to discharge a firearm in a manner that shot or projectiles cross or fall on other properties; and the term "nearby" shall mean any property within six hundred (600) feet of the point of firearm discharge. (Code 1986, § 25-6) 

That seems pretty straightforward. It defines certain limitations on target or practice shooting, but certainly does not say that shooting is illegal anywhere within the city. Whoever says Chattanooga law prohibits all gunfire did not get it from that paragraph. 

My property is way out on the edge of Chattanooga. Behind the house is three acres of rough uphill terrain covered with trees, brush, weeds, and rocks. The county assessor claims that inaccessible bit of boondocks is worth over $50,000, but that’s another story for another day. The property line is nearly a thousand feet long, and the adjacent properties are of similar size and shape, so I can get a long way from the street and from my house and from any neighboring  houses, completely out of sight but not completely out of hearing of everyone around me.

When I told the officer what I knew and understood of the city code, he just reiterated his statement that discharging a gun in the city is illegal, and added a bit about noise ordinances for good measure. With all due respect, just because a policeman says something doesn’t make it the law; he could be sincerely mistaken, or deliberately misleading.  

Surely no citizen should be cited for some imagined offense and have to go to court in order to get a judge to explain the true law(s) to everyone concerned. One bored, angry, lying cop put me in that awful situation years ago, causing me extreme stress and expense and a lot of other problems. Fortunately, my uniformed visitor this week was a decent guy just passing the word along. He was pleasant, matter-of-fact, and positive about it. I wonder, though, if that word is correct.

I’m not asking for anybody’s opinion here. I don’t need another opinion, I need the simple truth. I’m not interested in what police officers are taught to believe and to say about guns or noise, etc. This is not a situation where unwritten rules should apply, or where there’s some interpretation needed; the law should be explicit, clear cut, and comprehensible to anyone who reads it. 

So, I ask for some city official to respond right here, right now, to spell it all out in writing, in public, clarifying the matter once and for all: Is the ordinance (§ 25-6) copied above the real local law on the subject, or is it absolutely illegal to shoot a gun in Chattanooga? If there are other over-riding laws that make even safe target practice illegal in Chattanooga, then why is a contradictory ordinance still on the books?

No law should be treated the way some people read the Bible, taking preferred phrases out of context and interpreting them in a personally satisfying manner. And no public official should be allowed to say, “Well, that’s not what we meant ... .” 

In the meantime, I find myself deprived of that expected use and enjoyment of an expensive piece of property. Some faceless and nameless grinch nearby dislikes the sound of a gun firing, so I am not allowed to practice my own hobby on my own property at any time. 

First, please, clarify the gun use law for all of us. Then if target practice is allowed and this is really a noise issue, it should be addressed like other noise issues – with measurable and verifiable numbers describing the sound. Motor vehicle engine noises are quantified to show they are offensive, not merely prohibited because they are engine noises; loud music is offensive because of its measurable loudness at a given location, not because of its genre. If the noise of gunfire is offensive, put a number on it as with other noises; if firing guns is legal, the noise produced shouldn’t be illegal just because it's gunfire.

As someone else said long ago, Just the facts, please.

Larry Cloud
Lookout Valley

* * *

Mr. Cloud, I think the best thing to do would be to ask the City Attorney’s office.

Their phone number is (423) 643-8250.

Mark Timon 

* * * 

Mr. Cloud,  

I think your question does deserve a public answer. According to the Chattanooga City Code, Chapter 25-page 3, Sec. 25-6, 1986; as currently found on the search tab at chattanooga.gov; you are exactly right. The section is unchanged from what you wrote. There is no provision prohibiting target shooting or firearm discharge based on the geographic city limits based on what I read and my interpretation. 

However, to be perfectly clear, I am not an attorney and have no relationship with the city attorney’s office or the city of Chattanooga. I am only relating to you what is found on the city of Chattanooga’s website as of April 24 at 1815. But it seems pretty clear to me. 

Philip Smith


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