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Lawmakers hope to reverse Florida law that allows residential gun ranges

Residents of the Sunshine State, which has historically weak gun measures, are witnessing at least one challenge to existing laws.
Varrieur and Gordon practice their firing stance with unloaded weapons in the yard of Varrieur's home in Big Pine Keys. (Photo by Andrew Innerarity/Reuters)
Doug Varrieur (L) and Huie Gordon, his friend, neighbor and retired Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy practice their firing stance with unloaded weapons in the yard of Varrieur's home in Big Pine Keys in the Florida Keys on March 5, 2014.

Residents in Florida, a state with some of the country's weakest gun measures, are witnessing at least one challenge to existing laws.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson wants to prohibit homeowners from building gun ranges in their yards. Under current Florida law, it's legal to fire a gun on private property. And cities and counties are prohibited from regulating the use of those firearms.

"This is insane. This is insanity at its best. This is why Florida has the reputation it has to some degree."'

The law allows people to fire their weapons on residential property, as long as they aren't acting "recklessly or negligently." Rouson, a Democrat and main sponsor of the bill, filed a measure in the House last week that could tighten the statute by banning the discharge of a firearm on a property, except those exclusively approved for hunting or where someone lawfully is defending life. He decided to file the bill last Thursday after his 21-year-old St. Petersburg neighbor, Joe Carannante, built a makeshift gun range in his yard.

"I do not want to abrogate, curtail, [or] deny the right of a gun owner to bear arms. I respect and stand up for the Second Amendment clearly. I even respect your right to pack a pistol to the local movie theater. But I would debate the right of you to fire that gun in the dark," Rouson told msnbc.

Carannante's neighbors reportedly notified local officials and the media about the shooting range. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman told msnbc he recently informed Carannante he would be arrested if he didn't remove the homemade structure. The mayor said he felt the man could be acting recklessly and negligently in discharging his firearm.

RELATED: Florida House committee approves bill to allow guns at college

"When I heard about it my thought was, 'This is insane. This is insanity at its best. This is why Florida has the reputation it has to some degree,'" Kriseman told msnbc. Carannante, he added, was trying to exercise what he interpreted as a loophole to allow him to build the range, fire his gun in a residential urban setting, and claim it was a training range.

Kriseman said he doesn't believe it was the legislature's intent to allow residents to build gun ranges in yards in urban, residential settings.

After the publicity began to build, a local gun range offered Carannante a year-long membership to have premises other than the neighborhood to train. The man accepted the offer and since has removed the structure from his lawn.

Authorities who allegedly disobey the statute can be fired from their jobs, fined as much as $5,000, and have no access to public funds for defense.

Another neighbor created an online petition for a change in the law. He asks legislators to ban "the creation or use of outdoor gun ranges in all land zones primarily for residential use and within 500 feet from any occupied dwelling, including off hours when residents or employees may not be present." The campaign gained more than 3,000 supporters within a week.

At least one resident has died from a stray bullet that allegedly originated from his neighbor's property. Bruce Fleming, then 69, died after a bullet hit him in the chest while he was working in his backyard on Christmas morning in 2013. Last July, a grand jury deiced not to charge the suspected gunman in Fleming's death, The Orlando-Sentinel reported. The shooter said he went to the nearby property to kill a pig for his holiday dinner.

With its historically weak laws on firearms, Florida is one of the most gun-friendly states in America. It received an "F" grade in the state scorecard published by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence for weakening gun laws in 2014. The Sunshine State doesn't require background checks on private sales, for example, and doesn't ban assault weapons. In 2010, it was a net importer of crime guns, meaning firearms purchased in other states were recovered after being used in a crime in Florida.

In 2005, the state was the first to adopt the controversial Stand-Your-Ground Law, which gives individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without retreating from potentially harmful situations. The policy continues to be the subject of national debate, renewed after George Zimmerman's 2013 acquittal in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

And just this year, a Republican-led House committee approved a measure that could allow students to carry guns and concealed weapons on college campuses — just two months after a shooter injured three people at a Florida State University library. If the law is passed, students who are at least 21 years old and own a firearms license would be allowed to carry concealed guns on college or university campuses.

Rouson said residents have asked if his bill prohibits such activity for people who live on dozens of acres of land. "I'm seeking to bring commonsense to gun ranges. Commonsense tells you if you live on a 50-acre farm and you're setting up a gun range, chances are your neighbors are OK," he added.

If passed, Rouson's bill would be effective in July. He said he has bipartisan support, and hopes to work on a similar bill for the Senate.

Political satirist Stephen Colbert poked fun at the law during an episode of "The Colbert Report" last June. “Why should I have to get shot because he won't drive 20 minutes to a gun range?" a character posing to be a neighbor of the gun range owner said in the video.