Accusations, arguments presented during dismissal hearing
In the next few weeks, Union County Superior Court Judge Mark Klass will determine if the latest lawsuit involving Dr. Michael Land’s gun range goes to trial or is tossed out. Attorneys for both sides argued before the judge on Monday, Feb. 6, explaining why Klass should or should not dismiss the case.
“The law does not allow Dr. Land to shoot any gun on that property,” attorney Paul deMontesquiou said, arguing that because of what he saw as violations of the law, Land should not be allowed to fire any weapons on the property. “We don’t want people shooting machine guns in their backyard, in the snow (or) in the rain.”
A group of 40 residents from the Stonegate subdivision in Wesley Chapel hired deMontesquiou, from the Marvin based law firm of Walsh and DeMontesquiou, to sue Land for monetary damages. The lawsuit also demands that the doctor not be allowed to ever own or fire a gun again in the state of North Carolina.
Land bought his property, 1402 Bloomsberry Lane, in 1991. The village of Wesley Chapel incorporated in 1998 and annexed Land’s property in 1999. In May 2008, Wesley Chapel adopted an ordinance that makes firing weapons in the municipality illegal in most instances, and then ordered Land to stop shooting at the property. Land appealed to the Wesley Chapel Board of Adjustment, which ruled in the village’s favor. In 2009, Land filed an appeal asking the Union County Superior Court to review the decision. Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour ruled for Land, stating that, because the range was built before the village annexed the property, it’s governed by Union County’s zoning laws, not Wesley Chapel’s. In 2010, the North Carolina Court of Appeals also ruled in Land’s favor. Judge Robert Hunter Jr. wrote Land did not violate the county’s 1988 ordinance. Because Land bought the 5.68-acre property in July 1991, Union County’s 1988 zoning ordinance is in effect. That ordinance doesn’t list a shooting range as a regulated use. The 2000 version does.
This new lawsuit focuses on the doctor’s use of machine guns, as well as alleged damage the plaintiffs say he’s caused to the community, labeling Land’s use of guns as an assault on the community. Land’s attorney Tate Helms argued that the residents haven’t shown any evidence that his client caused damages.
“This is not an assault, an armed robbery or rape,” Helms said. “The complaint does not allege that any bullets or debris have ever left Dr. Land’s property or that Dr. Land has ever threatened anyone with his firearms. The plaintiffs’ complaint is based on the noise.”
The lawsuit states that firing machine guns in the area caused irreparable harm to the community, blaming the doctor’s hobby for causing emotional and psychiatric damage including anxiety and sleep disorders, as well as preventing couples from “engaging in conjugal relations due to fear, fright and noise of the weapons”.
Bible study groups were also discontinued in Stonegate, DeMontesquiou alleges, because people were afraid they would be shot.
“This is about the nuisance that is affecting everybody’s rights,” deMontesquiou told Judge Klass. “There are people here who cannot sell their homes. They have to move to other locales and rent a place to take a job and they can’t sell their homes.”
Helms questioned how Land’s shooting could be considered a nuisance, when no specific people have come forward to say how his shooting physically or emotionally hurt them. Also Helms questioned another part of the lawsuit, that argues Land is in violation of federal and state law due to his ownership of several machine guns. Helms pointed out that Land had permits for each of the machine guns, signed off on by both the ATF and then-Union County sheriff Frank McGuirt.
“If you’re good with the federal government, you’re good with the state,” Helms said. “Their allegations of fact admit (Dr. Land) possesses a (federal permit) for each of his weapons.”
Even if the residents did have a case, they filed in the wrong courtroom, Helms said, pointing out that any issues with the federal permits should be addressed to the ATF and a federal judge.
North Carolina residents can own machine guns, state law says, but only under certain circumstances. According to Land’s testimony during an October 2008 deposition before the Wesley Chapel Board of Adjustment, he has an Uzi, Thompson submachine gun and three machine guns with auto sears, which transform semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons. For the majority of his permit applications, he lists sport shooting as the intended use. For the permit marked Dec. 1, 1996, Land listed protection of business, along with sport shooting, as an intended use. The plaintiffs allege that Land has never owned or operated a business at the Bloomsberry Lane location, so they believe he’s in violation of the law.
“What he fires are not handguns, not rifles but machine guns,” deMontesquiou said. “A machine gun is not protected. If he is not protected, then what he’s doing is illegal because he’s shooting a machine gun. For someone to say Dr Land has a right to be shooting this machine gun, because Frank McGuirt signed a sheet of paper, doesn’t make it legal.”
Klass said he would take the case under advisement, to decide if it goes to trial or gets dismissed. There is no timetable for when that decision might come.