SC gun range responds to state senator’s request for probe

Sen. Margie Bright Matthews questions why the agencies have done nothing to properly address residents’ concerns regarding the Maltese Arms Shooting Club.
Published: Dec. 23, 2022 at 4:41 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 24, 2022 at 5:24 PM EST
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HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A gun range in Hampton County has issued a response to a state senator’s request that the business be investigated following a lawsuit and a Live 5 News investigation.

In a letter sent to Hampton County Sheriff Thomas Smalls and Yemassee Police Chief Gregory Alexander, Sen. Margie Bright Matthews questioned why the agencies have done nothing to properly address residents’ concerns about their property being struck by bullets, which they blame on the Maltese Arms Shooting Club and Range.

The nearly 50-page letter points to a Live 5 Investigation about a lawsuit against the range, which details how stray bullets from the range constantly hit nearby properties, putting residents’ lives at risk, according to the suit. An attorney representing the 12 plaintiffs in the case says the range staying open as it is now is a death waiting to happen. Matthews agrees.

Matthews called for a joint investigation.

READ MORE: Community caught in the crossfire: Residents file lawsuit against Lowcountry gun range

“It is very clear that this is a threat to the community and a safety issue that could potentially result in loss of a life,” Matthews says. “I have many concerns regarding how this business was able to set itself up while it is located so closely to homes and a business in the area.”

Matthews, who represents portions of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper Counties, goes on to detail the jurisdictional issues regarding the complaints of stray bullets, similar to the concerns listed in the 2022 lawsuit.

Both the Yemassee Police Department and the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office have addressed residents’ concerns saying that nothing can be done because the gun range is inside Yemassee town limits. The properties where the bullets land, according to Matthews and the lawsuit, is outside of town limits in an unincorporated portion of Hampton County, just across Pocotaligo Road, where several plaintiffs live and work.

Business records from the State of South Carolina show the residents living and working along Pocotaligo Road, the dividing line between the county where the residents live and the town where the range was annexed into, were there decades before the range.

Gun range: ‘We strive to provide safe environment’

Officials with the Maltese Arms Shooting Club and Range released the following comment:

We appreciate all sincere interest to evaluate the safety precautions of our range. Despite what “seems” to be popular belief amongst those who have never visited, we truly do strive to provide a safe environment for not only those who utilize the range but also our surrounding neighbors. It is concerning that a State Senator would move forward with a request to shut down a business that she herself has never visited, and to do so without even speaking with the owners is even more troubling. This business is within her district and we only ask that we are given the same representation that seems to be applied to select constituents.

We would invite Sen. Matthews out to see the facility as we have all others who made their concerns known. So far despite our efforts to be open and responsive to everyone who has voiced concerns we are only met with threats and lawsuits. While we operate a legal business and strive to provide a safe place for individuals to excercise their second amendment rights, if the now plaintiffs, would ever accept our invitation a few things would stand out, one would be our “No Explosives Allowed” sign posted at the entrance as well as the tall berm “buffers” that encapsulate the firing range and separates our range from the surrounding residents. We would welcome all investigations, as we have every time and believe that the end results would provide our community with peace of mind.

‘Jurisdictional nightmare’: Matthews claims residents are ‘without protections’

It was discovered that the Town of Yemassee moved to annex the shooting range property into its town limits in 2018, the document states. This came only after residents laid out their concerns, saying they feared for their lives and wanted the range shut down, Matthews says.

“This has created a jurisdictional nightmare of which the Town of Yemassee and Hampton County have been unable to determine who has jurisdictional oversight,” Matthews says. “This leaves the residents of the area without protections afforded to most citizens in the state.”

“The idea that a community can be put in such imminent danger with no recourse and/or no one willing to independently address the situation is inexcusable,” Matthews says.

Further, the letter details how a Hampton County ordinance was disregarded during the establishment process of the range in 2017. At the time, Hampton County Ordinances prohibited the use within the General Development District, which states “Commercial or Club Outdoor Pistol, Rifle or Skeet Range” is a prohibited use of the land.

Sen. Matthews investigation request is below:

I am asking that the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office and the Town of Yemassee Police Department conduct a joint investigation to determine the level of risk and potential harm that [Maltese Arms] Shooting Range poses to the [community]. Today, my main question is why is it taking so long for your agencies to resolve the jurisdiction questions in order to serve and protect the community at large?

In addition to local agencies, Matthews copied in on the letter Chief Mark Keel with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Robert Boyles with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Matthew Gates with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, Yemassee Mayor Colin Moore and Hampton County Council Chairman Charles Phillips, as well as Cameron Bopp with Live 5 News and Hampton County resident Ben Fennell, the spokesperson for the group of concerned residents. Matthews is asking all state agencies to assist in the investigation.

This all comes as an affidavit filed Dec. 16, by Don Fennell, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, details how a bullet shot from the range hit the side of his daughter’s car, lodging deep into the door.

Meanwhile, Attorney Jason Stevens says he and his co-counsel have moved for an emergency hearing. “I couldn’t wait. I thought someone was going to get shot while waiting for a hearing,” Stevens says.

The Hampton County Sheriff’s Office and Yemassee Police Department have not responded to requests for comment.