When Mckenzie Ussery moved into his Grovetown home on Dec. 19, he got an unexpected – and unwelcome – housewarming gift.
Grovetown authorities cited the 19-year-old for shooting a BB gun in his backyard, which borders the Columbia County Alternative School campus.
Ussery, who moved into his Railroad Avenue home with his wife and 6-month-old daughter, said he plans to fight the $291 ticket in Grovetown Municipal Court on Jan. 22.
“This BB gun will not hurt you,” he said. “It won’t even break a window.
“You probably couldn’t even put a dent in a brand-new tub of butter with it.”
Ussery said he was cited with discharging a firearm within the city limits but was unaware that his BB gun, powered by compressed air, was classified as a firearm.
Ussery said he was told by Grovetown police that any spring-loaded, black powder or compressed-air gun, including a paintball gun and even a NERF toy gun, was considered a firearm.
According to Grovetown’s city ordinance, paintball and BB guns fall into the firearm category but toy guns do not, said Grovetown Department of Public Safety Chief Gary Owens.
Owens said Grovetown officials are considering amending the firearm ordinance to exclude certain devices such as paintball and BB guns.
Owens said people are typically given a warning on the first offense.
“We generally cite people that are not taking due regard,” he said. “The officer makes that determination based on several factors.”
Owens, however, defended the citation, stating the incident occurred just five days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Owens said his department received a call from an alternative school teacher who reported seeing a man shooting a rifle near the school. The school went into a precautionary lockdown, he said.
“You know the school’s on edge,” he said. “Now everybody is on high alert.”
Ussery said he fired his 11-year-old BB gun three times to test it.
He said Owens and an officer banged on his back window when they arrived at his house. After Ussery explained the situation, he said, they demanded he be escorted inside to retrieve the gun.
“They treated me like I just shot somebody in the face,” he said.
Ussery said he was forced to give them his gun and won’t be able to get it back until he appears in court.
In addition to a fine and court fees, Ussery said, he also faces 30 days in jail.
A week or two after Ussery’s run-in with authorities, he said, a neighbor shot a high-powered rifle outside. Ussery reported the incident, but nothing was done, he said.
Owens said he’s unaware of any such complaints, adding that officers would immediately look into that situation if notified. He said his department is trying to prevent shootings like those that took place in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
“Some demented individual will eventually try to trump this, and it’s a sad situation,” Owens said. “It’s a fact of life that we live in.”