Machine Gun Fire, Next Door

"I have failed these people." - Sheriff Don Reynolds



For the second time in four years, the Sawmill Training Complex near Laurens has been brought before the County Council for complaints about noise and flying bullets.

This time, it was because of an event titled The All-American Machine Gun Show, originally held at a site in Kentucky that has been shut down. It was Oct. 14 and 15. Owners said when they were informed about problems on Friday, they made changes and there were no adverse reports on Saturday.

People living around the business say it is an on-going nuisance with constant gunfire, explosions and helicopters. One nearby resident said after the machine gun event, she found a high-capacity round right where her grandchildren play in her yard. Others said first responders were dodging bullets during a call on Ekom Beach Road.

The Sheriff admitted, “I have failed these people,” in not more closely monitoring the Sawmill site on Neely Ferry Road in western Laurens County.

A business owner, Steve Brown, said Sawmill has given equipment to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and is vital in the training of Special Ops - “the tip of the spear” - other soldiers and law enforcement, whose officers pay their own way for training.

“Our range is the most complex on the East Coast. We built here because what a great community,” Brown said, to laughter from the audience composed of neighbors of the Sawmill site. Council Chairman Brown Patterson called them down for laughing. “We’re doing great things for our county and nation,” Brown said, “and I hope everybody can see that.”

The public comments came at Tuesday’s Laurens County Council meeting. One speaker said she and others called to get on the agenda but were told that’s not how it works - they could appear after registering prior to the meeting for the public comments time.

Sawmill Tactical Training Facility is at 8524 Neely Ferry Road. It has been there 4 years and is a $4 million investment, according to its owners. The facility has played host to corporate events, non-profits fund-raising, Tactical Evangelism, domestic abuse groups to provide training, self-defense and self-esteem for people affected by abuse, and military assistance organizations. One of the owners, Steve Brown, lives in North Carolina and has bought land in Laurens County to move here when his children are out of the house. Brown said he has been assigned in the military to every major U.S. engagement between 1989 and 2005. Brown said they had to turn down Special Ops training because it was designed for night, and Sawmill has a 9 p.m. county-imposed curfew on its operations. That comes from the first complaint made to the County Council about the business.

He said there are now 8 million new gun owners in the United States and their training involves shooting 40 rounds - then they can carry their concealed weapons. Brown said Sawmill holds classes that can provide them with important additional training.

But nearby residents said none of that outweighs the fact that on the weekend when there was abundant machine-gun fire at Sawmill, they felt endangered.  

That was a “game-changer,” said Council Member Kemp Younts said of the danger remarks.

Council Member David Tribble said it is a law enforcement function - not a council, ordinance-making function - to address situations where people feel endangered. He said for 25 years he has maintained an office in Clinton near the railroad track and has gotten used to the train noises, “but not once has an engineer taken a shot at me.”

Sheriff Don Reynolds said he has done law enforcement functions, meeting with 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stump’s office to ensure that there would be no more explosions at the Sawmill site.

He said he advised the Sawmill owners to go on a local radio show to introduce themselves to the community and explain what their business does. The owners said they are opening to having community-education days at the training facility.

Reynolds said people in the Ukraine live with explosions all the time, but that should not be the case in Laurens County. “They (Sawmill’s neighbors) can’t live under stress like that,” he said. 

“I appreciate the equipment these people have given us, but I’ve asked these people, do a talk on the radio to introduce yourself, do not wait until your back is against the wall. I have failed these people (the neighbors). You (council) moved quick to stop a business in Clinton because you thought it was a hazard. This is not a 2nd Amendment issue - it’s about HARM. I’m not a politician, I ain’t polished but I’m passionate. I don’t live down there but I’ve heard explosions. That’s why  2 hours ago I met with the solicitor’s office and there will be no more nights and no more explosions. They sent two letters to businesses in Greenwood. and one closed quick.”

A Sawmill opponent, Connie Hill, who brought forth the first complaint about the training facility, said, “I talked to (another neighbor) Cathy Butts on Oct. 21 - on Oct 19 she found a high caliber projectile in her driveway, there’s a incident report about that.”

She said the event in question was the All-American Machine Gun Shoot, and Mrs. Butts’ children were concerned about their parents. “Adam Butts sent a video to (council member) Luke Rankin. … We wanted to get on agenda to speak, because we thought that was how it was done, and we were told that is not allowed, we had to sign up to speak. One close property owner was warned by sawmill owner what was going to be happening, and he had a fire started on his property that weekend. That is unacceptable. People’s lives are at stake. All mention of machine guns have been removed from the Sawmill website and Youtube,” but videos still exist and are in the possession of the concerned neighbors.

Chairman Patterson, who represents the area in question which was reapportioned away from councilman Rankin after the census, said, “We sympathize 110% with your (neighbors’) issue. Normally I ask people how did you vote on zoning 20 years ago, I’m not asking that tonight. We’re a legislative body. We review state law and county ordinances, There are laws out there that can be used to prosecute if the sheriff supports it. All we want do is provide the tools. If someone wants to prosecute, there are things to make that happen, if the will is there.”

Council took no formal action on the matter.


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