Closing out a process that began months before the 12/14 tragedy, the Legislative Council on September 4 unanimously approved a local firearms ordinance.
The vote came after some brief discussion that included two amendments to correct some minor language points and to exempt active or honorably discharged military personnel from the requirement to have safety training as defined in that section of the document.
“Obviously, we can presume [members of the military] have training in the use of firearms,” said council Vice Chair and Ordinance Committee Chair Mary Ann Jacob following the meeting.
Ms Jacob said she does not foresee the ordinance affecting any significant change in behavior by the local police department.
“Many shooters call the police today as a courtesy when they begin to shoot in case complaints are made,” she said. “That call will now be used to log the start time. In the event there are complaints, now the police have a variety of tools in their tool box to ensure the shooting that is occurring is safe and limited to the four-hour window.”
Through the months-long process of developing the ordinance, Ms Jacob called 13 meetings and a public hearing to gain insight from local firearms users, and more recently, from those who sought further restrictions on the use of firearms in town.
“I am very proud of how all of the people affected by this ordinance, on both sides of the issue, comported themselves,” she said. “Many of those residents not only let us know how they felt about the process, but actively offered constructive ideas on issues that led to compromises both groups could live with.”
While no law makes everybody happy, Ms Jacob conceded, she is confident her committee and the full council addressed the concerns brought before them, creating an ordinance that is fair and balanced.
“Residents no longer have to listen to eight to ten hours of shooting,” she said, “and that if they complain, the police can confirm that appropriate safety precautions are being taken.”
Ms Jacob said those who enjoy shooting sports may continue to participate in the sport they love.
“Most of the folks who attended our meetings are already doing many of the things we have made part of this ordinance,” she added.
The ordinance process started when Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico and Police Chief Michael Kehoe met with Legislative Council members in May of 2012 to discuss firearms issues, explaining that there was a need for an updated firearms ordinance. (The Borough of Newtown has a 1985 ordinance that prohibits any recreational discharge of firearms within its borders.)
Quality Of Life
Ms Jacob previously pointed out early, and throughout the process, that those supporting recreational shooting in town understood the concerns of those neighbors whose quality of life was also being threatened by the noise.
“Folks who want to enjoy recreational shooting understood their neighbors’ concerns about how often they would be shooting; and for how long; and whether there would be exploding targets,” Ms Jacob said. “From the start we wanted to address the issues we had in front of us — noise, quality of life, and what neighborhoods are most affected.”
Among the restrictions in the ordinance are new safety provisions seeking to have any outdoor shooting activity overseen by the property owner and, preferably, at least one experienced and certified gun handler.
The ordinance states that persons participating in the discharging of a firearm must be the owner of the property on which the discharge is taking place, a guest of the owner who is present, or have written permission from the property owner.
Persons discharging a firearm shall possess and carry or be supervised by an individual who possesses and carries a state-issued hunting license, certificate of possession, a permit to carry pistols or revolvers, a Long Gun Eligibility Certificate, and/or a certificate issued after successfully completing a course approved by the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
That could include but is not limited to, a safety training course offered by a law enforcement agency, a private or public educational institution or a firearms training school utilizing instructors certified by the National Rifle Association or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and a safety or training course in the use of firearms conducted by an instructor certified by the state or the National Rifle Association, according to the ordinance language.
Persons not possessing a license or certificate as provided may be permitted to discharge a firearm provided they are supervised at all times by a person licensed or certificated as provided.
Otherwise, no more than four unlicensed or uncertified persons as may participate in shooting; only one firearm may be fired at a time, and firearms not in use must be unloaded and safely stowed.
There are also restrictions related to shooting within a half-mile of a school, but Ms Jacob said there was only one school in the district in proximity to large parcels of open space.
The other major restriction would be a police monitored program limiting any outdoor shooting to no more than four hours a day.
The ordinance also contains the following exceptions:
*The provisions shall not apply to a peace officer, as defined in Section 53a-3(9) of the Connecticut General Statutes, when acting within the scope of his/her duties.
*Shall not apply to hunting as defined in Section 26 of the Connecticut General Statues.
*Shall not apply to The Pequot Fish and Game Club, Newtown Fish and Game Club, Fairfield County Fish and Game Protective Association, or any sportsman’s organization operating as an approved use under the provisions of the Newtown Zoning Regulations.
*The use of birdshot for the purpose of clay pigeon shooting shall be exempt from the requirement to use a backstop per section 128-5(c)
*The provisions of this ordinance shall not apply to the use of firearms in self-defense or nuisance animal control.