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Stray bullets, noise from home gun ranges concern neighbors in Golden Gate Estates

Posted at 8:22 PM, Jul 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-24 20:22:50-04

A Golden Gates Estates man recently sent Fox 4 a video he took from his property of his neighbor shooting a weapon at his backyard gun range - just yards away from his family's pool and trampoline.

"The noise is just unbearable," said Arianna, the daughter of the man who wished not to be identified.

"We were out there hanging out by the pool, and he was just nonstop shooting," Arianna said. "That went on for probably three hours."

Florida state law makes backyard gun ranges legal in areas where private properties - with only one home per property - measure at least one acre. Golden Gate Estates is unique in the state, in that most properties in the massive subdivision are an acre, or larger.

"You can drive through Golden Gate Estates on any given night, and likely hear gunfire," said Lieutenant Gary Martin of the Collier County Sheriff's Office. "State law allows you to do that, and the county cannot impose any restrictions on that state law."

But recurring instances of stray bullets striking homes has resulted in numerous calls to the Sheriff's Office.  

"We frequently have calls for stray rounds hitting property," he added. "If it's reckless, or you're endangering somebody, you could face criminal charges."

Deborah Ledesma was only fourteen years old when she was hit in her left hand by a stray bullet fired from a neighbor's yard - while she was inside her family's home in Golden Gate Estates.

"It completely shattered my bone and my tendon, and I still don't have a knuckle," said Ledesma, who is now sixteen.

Two years and two surgeries later, Ledesma has regained most of the mobility in her hand - but the real scars are less visible.

"I spent a good year with PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome,) taking pills for PTSD and anxiety," she said. "I still get chills, and I jump every time I hear a loud noise. I don't think that's going to go away."

The neighbor who fired the bullet that hit her was arrested and charged with criminal negligence. 

Lt. Martin said that occasionally, deputies respond to complaints at backyard gun ranges at which the gun owners have backstops behind their targets which are inadequate - and dangerous.

"We (once) had a gentleman shooting into a mattress held up by a piece of plywood," Martin said. "That obviously will not stop a round, which makes it reckless or dangerous, and which resulted in criminal charges."

Lt. Martin said while his deputies are not allowed to inspect or approve backyard gun ranges, he said that a tall and thick berm of dirt is usually the best kind of backstop at which to shoot firearms.

He has some advice that might make a private gun range safer...and ease concerns from neighbors.

"Find out what's behind your backstop," Martin said. "Take a really good look at what you're shooting at. Walk around behind it, and think about if you were shooting the other direction. Would your property be safe? Would your loved ones be safe on the other side of that berm?"