Watering Down The Shooting Range Ordinance

To the Editor:

At its meeting last week, the [Legislative Council’s] Ordinance Committee reached four decisions about its draft in progress of a new ordinance to regulate residential target shooting. The committee decided:

1) To exclude from further consideration any permitting process to be administered by the police chief. The unanimous straw poll was taken immediately after Chief Kehoe replied No when asked by the chair if he supported inclusion of a permitting process in the new ordinance.

A permitting process would allow any proposed range on any specific property in Newtown to be safety-evaluated by landowners and police in a matter of minutes by reference to planimetric and aerial maps with overlay features and buffer and parcel inventory tools, all freely available online from Newtown GIS. The elimination of a permitting process means that clear-eyed proactive is replaced by blind reactive. Officers responding to gunshot complaints arrive with no way of knowing the point of origin and orientation of the line of fire or the disposition of surrounding parcels and houses. Permitting processes were proposed by Parents for a Safer Newtown with the support of the Newtown Action Alliance and by the Police Commission, formerly with the support of the police chief.

2) To retain the 500-foot rule, which states that any firearm may be discharged anywhere on a residential property provided the shooter is no closer than 500 feet from houses and barns on neighboring properties.

The maximum distances which bullets discharged from pistols and rifles can travel vary from 1 to 2.5 miles, depending on ammunition type.

3) To forbid the passage of projectiles beyond the property from which the projectiles are discharged.

It is virtually impossible to trace an errant bullet with forensic certainty to a particular gun discharged on a distant range at a specific time. In 2008, half a dozen homes in Durham were hit by dozens of bullets that the homeowners had no doubt were escaping from the Blue Trail Range over a mile distant in Wallingford. After multiple investigations, lab tests, and trials over the course of three years costing the town, the state, and the homeowners untold thousands of dollars, not a single bullet could be traced to a specific firearm discharged from a specific location.

4) To exclude from consideration the orientation of shooting relative to houses on surrounding properties. Chief Kehoe assured the committee that such a provision in the town ordinance is unnecessary because the reckless endangerment provision in state law is fully adequate for his officers to protect Newtown residents from reckless shooting.

The chief did not say whether the Newtown police have ever charged a residential shooter under the reckless endangerment statutes (CGS Sec. 53a-63/64). Nor did he mention two other pertinent state statutes: “Unlawful discharge of firearms” (Sec. 53-203) and “Seizure of firearms posing risk” (Sec. 29-38c), the latter enforced specifically by state police. Newtown residents alarmed by sustained rapid fire in their neighborhood might be better advised to call the State Police Troop A in Southbury at 203-267-2200.

Robert Hutchinson

Split Rock Road, Newtown              May 15, 2013

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