CrimeBeat: Where can I shoot a gun in rural Sonoma County?

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CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.

I live in an unincorporated area of 5-acre to 40-acre parcels. As might be predicted, we have the occasional gun owners exercising their Second Amendment rights and blasting away at something or other. I’m curious about the various regulations for shooting, such as hours when people can shoot or different rules for air rifles or semiautomatic weapons?

Tom B.

Shooters can fire away on rural private properties as long as they keep a wide berth from people and the places they inhabit, from buildings to campgrounds, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

A county ordinance requires shooters keep a 150-yard “safety zone” from “any building, dwelling house, camp or other place where human beings inhabit, assemble, frequent or pass.” The rule applies to all guns allowed in California, plus airsoft guns, slingshots, crossbows and longbows. Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail or a fine up to $500. California’s fish and game laws require the same safety distance and prohibit shooting across a public road.

The county has no rules limiting the hours of the day when people can shoot. However, it could be a misdemeanor crime to shoot a gun at night, depending on the circumstances.

“It’s negligent discharge of a firearm if you’re shooting blindly into the night,” Crum said.

Calls reporting gunfire are common for sheriff’s dispatchers, with 58 reports in the past 30 days, according to Crum.

That’s about one 911 call reporting gunfire every 12 hours.

Deputies respond to these calls — “10-57” calls in police code speak — and usually find people target shooting on their property. Crum said the caller is often someone new to rural living.

“Ninety-nine percent of the shots are people enjoying guns on their own property,” Crum said. “That’s the advantage of having land in the country. We do get to shoot our guns.”

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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