Errant bullets hit homes, person

If you fire weapons on your property, police are warning that you need to be sure you know where the bullets are going.

In the past two weeks, the sheriff’s office has been called four separate times when bullets struck homes, a barn or, in one case, a resident who was outside his home.

The sheriff wants people to know that while they can legally shoot guns in unincorporated area of the county, they are still responsible for where the bullets go. And if they hit a home, a property or a person, they could face criminal charges, fines or a civil lawsuit.

“People need to realize they are responsible for those rounds that are fired,” Sheriff Doug Cox said.

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In the recent reports, the sheriff’s office is investigating one case, and another will soon be sent to the prosecutor’s office to decide what, if any, charges should be filed.

Residents have the right to bear arms, and prosecutor Brad Cooper has defended those rights in the past, deputy prosecutor Alex Hamner said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, we don’t have the right to be reckless with firearms. When guns are fired that ultimately result in damage or injury, charges could range from criminal mischief to criminal recklessness. However, not every accident that occurs is a crime. We will review the facts, evidence and circumstances in these incidents and determine whether criminal charges are warranted under these particular circumstances,” Hamner said in the statement.

He was speaking in general about individual rights and the law, not about specific cases under investigation now.

Even if no criminal charges are filed, if bullets hit another property, the people shooting could face a fine from the county for violating rules on where firing a gun is prohibited, Cox said. That fine starts at $100 for the first time and could reach up to $7,500 for future violations, according to the county ordinance.

After the recent reports, Cox wanted to remind residents of their responsibilities when shooting on their property. “A person will face a consequence one way or another,” he said. “People are responsible for the projectiles that are fired.”

The first report was Oct. 9, when a resident in the 6500 block of Urmeyville Road, northeast of Franklin, reported a bullet fired from a nearby property struck a barn while a woman was working inside. Deputies went to the other property and told the resident and others shooting on the property what happened, and they immediately stopped, according to the report from the sheriff’s office.

That incident is under investigation, Cox said.

On Oct. 15, two residents in the 6000 block of County Road 700E, north of Edinburgh, reported bullets struck their homes and wondered if they came from a shooting range about three-quarters of a mile away on U.S. 31, the reports said.

J.R. Grounds, director of training at the MALC Training Institute on U.S. 31, said they were unsure those bullets came from their property but still took precautions to make sure they were shooting safely.

The gun range and training center had 12-foot-tall backstops, but because of the reports, they had them raised more, he said. The range also requires that anyone shooting first goes through a four-hour safety course, and it has a certified instructor at the facility, he said.

“We do quite a bit, but if there is any remote possibility, that’s why we wanted to address it,” he said.

The sheriff’s office also made changes to its shooting range years ago after a bullet struck a nearby home, Cox said. That possibility is especially a concern when shooting rifle rounds, which can travel miles, he said.

“People can have backstops, dirt mounts. There still is the risk of an accidental discharge or a bullet going somewhere you don’t want it to go,” Cox said.

Most recently, on Friday, a man outside of his home in the 1700 block of County Road 125W, west of Franklin, was shot in the leg, and other bullets struck his home. The sheriff’s office is investigating that report, where the bullets were believed to have come from a nearby property on State Road 144, the report said.

The sheriff’s office will investigate when homes or other buildings, or in a worse case scenario, people, are struck by bullets, he said.

“If people follow the rules, there is nothing we can do. If a bullet strikes something, that is a different story,” he said.

At times, those investigations can be lengthy, such as if multiple people were shooting on a property at the same time, since investigators need to try to determine who fired the bullet that struck the person or property, Cox said.

In the most recent case from Friday, investigators asked the doctor at Indiana University Methodist Hospital to save the bullet taken from the resident’s leg so it can be used in the investigation, the report said.

Cox said an investigator had recently spoken to the resident who was shooting that day and would soon be sending the report to the prosecutor’s office.

At a glance

Here is a look at the county ordinance for shooting a weapon:

Discharge of weapons prohibited:

Anyone who discharges a weapon in unincorporated Johnson County is responsible for the projectile discharged. Discharging a weapon is prohibited, if the projectile travels:

across any public street, sidewalk or alley,

across or upon a public park, public school or public school property,

across or upon another person’s property without the owner’s permission,

within 100 yards of an occupied structure without the owner’s permission.

Penalty:

Any violation shall result in a penalty of $50 for a first-time violation. Further offenses shall result in a penalty of no less than $100 and no more than $7,500 each.

Here is a look at state law for criminal recklessness, which could be charged in a case of someone firing a gun and harming someone else:

A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally performs an act that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person commits criminal recklessness.

The offense of criminal recklessness is:

a Level 6 felony if:

it is committed while armed with a deadly weapon.

a Level 5 felony if:

it is committed by shooting a firearm into an inhabited dwelling or other building or place where people are likely to gather.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.