A proposal to restrict firearms use in Orange County was defeated in February after opponents crowded a meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners, which instead accepted a proposal in March to form a Firearms Safety Committee to study gun use on unincorporated private property in the county.

Opponents to the proposal complained that it appeared to hadn’t been publicized before a Feb. 16 meeting in hopes that it wouldn’t attract attention and pass easily. Instead, a local website got wind of the proposal, and its notice drew an overflow crowd to the meeting.

The proposal would have stricter outdoors shooting on private land twice a month from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., although property owners could shoot more often if they built earthen backstops 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Target-shooting areas would have to be at least 300 feet from property lines or 1,000 feet from neighbors’ houses.

Of 36 speakers at the meeting, 35 opposed the proposal., and several said the plan favored rich landowners with large acreage over people who owned smaller properties. Charlie Brown of Efland summed up the opposition. “It brings a lot of bad optics to Orange County,” he said. “It’s crazy. You guys (commissioners) are so disconnected from the northern part of the county. This idea makes as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.”

At a March 1 meeting, commissioner Barry Jacobs suggested a Firearms Safety Committee to study gun use at unincorporated county private property. His proposal was accepted. The gun-safety committee will include 14 members: eight rural property owners on either side of the issue, the county manager, attorney and planning director, plus one member each from the sheriff’s office, a commissioner and a N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission representative.

Landowners on the committee will vote for or against a final draft. One opponent to the original proposal and Jacobs’ study committee was Chris Weaver, a former candidate for Orange County commissioner and conservative community activist. Weaver said commissioners didn’t publicize the original proposal to avoid public scrutiny, and that Jacobs’ committee solution was intended to reduce opposition to anti-gun proposals.

Board chairman Earl McKee denied attempts to hide the topic from public view. He said the board could have ratified the proposal at its January 2016 meeting after the proposal was put on the board’s agenda in September 2015. But at the February hearing, he admitted “We may not have been as public as we should have been.”

The county attorney said at the February meeting “(the proposal) mostly came from the Planning Department.” Weaver and other opponents said the Planning Department agenda item didn’t mention firearms restrictions. Weaver said he wasn’t surprised the anti-gun proposal was kept under wraps.

“Orange County has lots of people who don’t like guns,” he said. “If they hear a gun shot anywhere, their first reaction is to look for a bullet headed for them. And you’ll get kicked off local web sites if you post conservative ideas about guns.”

Weaver said that many Orange County residents want gun regulations modeled after those in place in Lenoir County, where Kinston is the county seat.

“The sheriff (Charles Blackwood) gave a copy of Lenoir County’s shooting laws to commissioners, and they wouldn’t accept them,” Weaver said.