- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. (AP) - Near the National Key Deer Refuge in the Lower Keys, on a sleepy street called Mango Lane, retired sheriff’s deputy Huey Gordon checked the waterway behind neighbor Doug Varrieur’s home for boat traffic.

“All clear?” asked Varrieur, an author of diet cookbooks and owner of rental properties.

“Yes, sir, you are,” Gordon said.

To which Varrieur replied: “The range is hot.”

He put on earmuffs and, within a few seconds, the peace of the residential neighborhood was replaced with the burst of small-caliber gunfire. Varrieur fired seven shots that traveled 21 feet to a target that had three cans inside a box and a picture of a zombie holding a screaming woman.

“All right, one dead can,” said Varrieur, 57.

It has been a month since the friends first fired their guns in this makeshift shooting area - surrounded by a chain-link fence, a shiny RV and the canal. The shots sent shockwaves through the neighborhood.

It became even scarier once the neighbors learned that on Varrieur’s side was a state law on the books since 1987. Varrieur said most gun owners like himself had just assumed they couldn’t shoot in residential neighborhoods.

“I honestly had hoped no one would catch wind of it and it would become public knowledge,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said of the state law that pre-empts local ordinances. “I’m concerned now that people know. This isn’t about the right to own and bear arms. My concern is public safety and quality of life.”

Ramsay is not the only one who is worried. Since word got out about the legality of Varrieur’s “Gun Day” - he shoots from 3 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday - citizens and lawmakers up and down the island chain have become concerned that gun owners less responsible than Varrieur will begin shooting in their own yards.

“Without any oversight, somebody’s neighbor could set up a gun range and invite his friends over and have a good old time shooting,” said longtime Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent. “That’s a little scary situation, and I say that as a gun owner and somebody who believes in the Second Amendment.”

Even Varrieur said he was surprised to discover that he could shoot with few restrictions and with no mandatory safety requirements.

“It’s almost the wild, wild west again when we go back to firing wherever you want, whenever you want,” Ramsay said.

If people want to shoot on private property next to a daycare center, they can. Just last month, Ernie Vasiliou threatened to put a private gun range on a one-acre lot on Ranches Road west of Boynton Beach if a proposed daycare center were approved on land next to his. Vasiliou said noisy kids would ruin his dream-home plans.

When Monroe County commissioners asked whether noise ordinances could be invoked to stop shooting at private homes, County Attorney Bob Shillinger said no.

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