Neighbors complained of constant gunfire. One local city said it was perfectly legal, until now

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 10:25 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- The sound of gunshots has been breaking the silence in a local neighborhood. Neighbors say bullets regularly whiz past them and their children’s play areas.

But it’s not a crime that’s plaguing them. In fact, one local town had, until recently, said it was perfectly legal.

“We bought this house to be outside,” said Lisa Shirley. She says she and her husband and kids moved to Wildwood for the peace and quiet.

“We have put a lot into it, and they love it,” she said.

But their serenity was soon shattered, they say, by their neighbor’s nearby outdoor shooting range.

Videos they’ve captured and provided to News 4 Investigates clearly illuminate the sounds of the gunfire blasting.

“It feels like you’re in a warzone,” Shirley said. “We have heard bullets whipping through the trees.”

She has been fearful to let their small children play on their own property.

“Sometimes we are 50 feet from where he decides to start shooting semi-automatic and automatic guns,” she said.

“It’s just become a nightmare,” said Brenda Izen, who has lived nearby for three decades.

“It’s been wonderful until these last few years,” Izen said. “We started hearing a lot of gunfire and its increasing in frequency,” she said.

While outside recently, “I heard the gunshots and bullets whistling through the trees and it was terrifying,” she said.

The neighbors took drone video that they say shows people shooting very close to their properties.

For months, they say they’ve pleaded their case to all who might listen, including the property owner.

But the gunfire has continued.

They’ve called the police, who have said their hands were tied. They also talked to Wildwood city leaders.

But officials, until very recently, had told them that the firing range was perfectly legal and operating within city code.

“It’s going to take someone getting killed for them to give this the seriousness that it needs,” Izen said.

To find out why an outdoor shooting range in a neighborhood might be legal, News 4 Investigates dug into Wildwood’s laws.

The current ordinance prohibits shooting a firearm within 450 feet of any dwelling, church, school, playground, or building not owned by the person discharging the guns.

City officials have said the firing range they’ve been shown is a little over 500 feet away from other buildings. They also said the Shirley’s playground doesn’t count as an official playground.

“Why would you interpret the law in any way but for protecting children?” Shirley said.

But also at issue is that Paul Brown, the man who owns the property in question, applied for and received a Home Occupation business license from the city a year ago to sell firearms, tactical supplies and ammo.

The business, called MidAmerica Firearms, has a website inviting buyers to pick up orders at the Wildwood property.

City officials insist it must be Brown’s primary residence for him to operate the business. News 4 obtained his voter registration and history through a public records request, which indicated he lives at a different Wildwood home.

News 4 went to Brown’s registered home to attempt to speak with him. Though someone could be seen inside, no one answered the door when we tried to talk to them.

“We are supporters of the second amendment, it’s not a matter of that, but what he is doing is dangerous, it’s scary. It’s men like that that give gun owners a bad name,” Lisa Shirley said.

“I feel for everyone involved in this situation,” said Wildwood Mayor Jim Bowlin.

And he says just this week, the city issued a cease and desist to Paul Brown and his business.

“We have learned through independent investigation that the application to get the accessory use is inaccurate and fundamentally so resulting in a violation of our ordinances,” Bowlin said.

It’s some action that worried neighbors had been hoping for for months.

“Should the city have acted sooner than this?” asked Chief Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager. “The city has acted very quickly relative to this, as soon as it learned of the situation, I cannot imagine it acting any more quickly than it has,” said Mayor Bowlin.

But even without the business, the gunfire could continue legally under Wildwood’s law.

“He likely can do that as long as he complies with other ordinances that relate to that,” Bowlin said.

Possible revisions of the city’s laws, including the 450 feet rule, are now on the table.

News 4 investigates checked other towns’ ordinances to compare to Wildwood’s.

Chesterfield, for example, has a very similar ordinance stating guns can’t be discharged within 150 yards of a house, dwelling or apartment.

O’Fallon, Missouri, only allows outdoor ranges with a conditional use permit in agricultural zoning districts, not residential ones. Firing a gun at all in city limits is unlawful except at an authorized range.

Eureka also does not allow outdoor ranges unless it is for a military training facility.

“I am a proponent of gun rights and most in Wildwood are,” said Mayor Bowlin.

Mayor Bowlin says he doesn’t yet have an opinion on whether Wildwood’s laws should change.

“My opinion is to wait and see what that resident body does, and I will take it from there,” he said.

“450 feet is nothing when you’re talking about the flight of a bullet,” said Izen.

Some residents News 4 spoke with said the laws about shooting within city limits must change and soon.

“I am terrified that something is going to happen, which is heartbreaking,” said Shirley. “I don’t want to be home and I love our home,” she said.

Neighbors demanded that their voices be heard while speaking at a public safety meeting at Wildwood City Hall Thursday night.

A voice we haven’t heard is that of Paul Brown. He has not returned our numerous calls, texts and emails.

News 4 Investigates will follow any developments in this story.