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Jere Brittain: Culture clash puts tranquility in crossfire

Guns are part of the DNA in upper South Mills River community.

The Sitton iron forge and Gillespie long rifle works of the early nineteenth century are commemorated by an historic marker at the intersection of NC-280/191 and South Mills River Road. Some small countries would envy the number and variety of guns in upper Mills River.
A few years ago I was visiting a neighbor to express condolence for loss of his mother. Six local men were sitting together talking and eventually the conversation turned to the subject of guns. I was the only one who was not packing a pistol in my pocket at this wake.
While sitting in a pew of a local church generally regarded as “liberal,” I overheard two women discussing the pistols in their purses. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
In a front page article in the March 17 edition of the Hendersonville Lightning, Bill Moss reported on “an emotionally charged” meeting about a backyard gun range in Henderson County. Protestors claimed that the gunfire frightened their animals and reduced their property values. Spokesmen for the County Planning Board responded that no relief was available under current county ordinances, leaving the issue of “sacred” gun rights versus the right to the pursuit of tranquility and happiness in a stalemate.
As secretary of the North and South Mills River Community Center, I have recently received complaints about an apparently undocumented gun range on Dalton Road. I believe this range originated as part of concealed-carry training conducted by the owner of the property, a former Henderson County Deputy Sheriff. Over the past few years, the range has evolved to a major shooting venue for county and municipal police departments. This involves rapid-fire, high-powered weapons that are fired for hours, sometimes until 9:00 or 10:00pm. Augmented by echoes off Forge Mountain, the gunfire makes upper South Mills River sound like a war zone. Nearby residents retreat from their decks and porches into their closed houses, where the guns can still be heard at bed time.
The Henderson County Commission and Zoning Board can no longer ignore this issue. Law enforcement agencies are complicit in an activity that clearly disturbs the peace in upper South Mills River community. This has nothing to do with Second Amendment rights. It is about the rights of residents to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of one of the most beautiful valleys in Western North Carolina without assault to their senses by frequent, loud, and incessant gunfire.
Journeying on …

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Since Jere Brittain submitted this column, Blue Ridge Community College announced that 24 cadets in a Basic Law Enforcement Training class had completed firearms qualifying at the South Mills River range. The Henderson County sheriff's office said it does not use that range for practice and qualifying. It's unclear whether area law enforcement agencies continue to use the range. 

A sixth generation native of Mills River, Lightning columnist Jere Brittain is a retired professor of horticulture at Clemson University, a musician and songwriter and Henderson County history enthusiast who writes about life in and around Mills River.