Fearing lawsuit, regulators stop harassing private gun range owner

In an exclusive story published in May, we chronicled how state and local regulators were harassing Matthew Byatt because of a private gun range he built on his weekend “getaway” property — 21 acres on Ten Rod Road near Middleburg, Florida.

The Australian native built his own “personal” shooting range on the property, which consists of a U-shaped berm that’s 15-feet tall, 20-feet deep and 80 yards long.

He named the property “Black Creek Sporting Club” and incorporated it through an LLC. While he held a machine gun shoot at his range, he never allowed the public to shoot at his facility. It was only built, he said, for friends and family.

After a neighbor complained, county officials and the compliance coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Division of Regulatory Service, began peppering Byatt with orders, inspections and other filings.

On May 17, Clay County Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Smith sent Byatt a “cease and desist” letter, ordering him to stop shooting at his own range.

“You must cease all non-permitted activities and business operations from your residential property,” the letter states.”

And then things changed.

A story we published that featured comments from Marion Hammer — former NRA president, current NRA board member and executive director of Unified Sportsmen of Florida — seems to have caused the officials to lose interest.

Hammer pointed out that the officials were likely regulating firearms — a clear violation of Florida’s preemption statute, which states that only the legislature can regulate firearms. If a public official violates preemption, they’re subject to a $5,000 fine, which the statute requires them to pay personally. If the violator is an elected official, they can be fined and removed from office.

Now, it seems the regulators have reconsidered their position.

All they’re requiring Byatt to do is place some sod near his range.

Everything else is okay.

He quickly put the property back into his name, and then took full advantage of his newfound freedom.

“We went out there and created a hell of a racket this weekend,” he said. “I just built a M1A1 Thompson and an Mp44, Sturmgewehr. We had a great time. I’m happy.”

Matthew Byatt at play with a British Bren. Photo courtesy Matthew Byatt


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. It is quite uplifting to see private property utilized in a LAWFUL MANNER and acknowledged AS SUCH without the need for screaming, yelling, threats of legal action or the multitude of things we TYPICALLY SEE as someone attempts to thwart the shooting enjoyment of LAW ABIDING FOLKS!

    Thank YOU Lee Williams for presenting this article for the readers to enjoy!



  2. The Hughes Amendment to FOPA needs to be repealed so I can afford a machine gun!
    Right now only the rich can have one.

  3. If you want a machine gun on the cheap, buy a slide fire
    They work great
    I have a 60 round surefire mag on my AR with a slide fire stock on it
    I can do 3 round bursts or entire mag dumps with it
    It is so hard to find a place to plink outdoors here in south Florida
    Most people cannot afford to buy a private parcel in the country

  4. Concerned Citizen on

    Man charged with pointing gun at mother-in-law’s head
    FLEMING ISLAND – A Fleming Island man faces one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following an investigation by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
    Police arrested Matthew Keith George Byatt, 42, on Jan. 24 at 2:48 a.m. at his home on Sunnycreek Drive.
    According to the police report, Byatt “entered his home in a rage yelling and screaming” and accused his 65-year-old mother-in-law of saying he was having an affair.
    Police said Byatt went into the mother-in-law’s room to confront her and yelled and pointed his finger in her face. He went on to allegedly pull out a handgun and pointed directly in the woman’s forehead.
    When Byatt realized police had been called, he fled the home and went to his place of employment in the Industrial Loop near Orange Park. Police arrived on the scene having obtained a warrant from Clay County Judge Kristina Mobley and called the business to tell Byatt he should surrender, when he did peacefully.
    Since his arrest, Byatt has been released from the Clay County Jail where his bond had been $75,000.


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