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Firearms Ordinance Heads For Public Hearing, Possibly By Month's End

Thirteen months ago, the Newtown Police Commission called for the Legislative Council to address a proliferation of complaints about private property shooting ranges and gun noise, mostly on weekends, sometimes extending from early mornings until well into the night.

On Wednesday, July 10, the council's Ordinance Committee plans to move the overhauled ordinance to a public hearing. That hearing could happen as soon as the last week of July, although Ordinance Chair Mary Ann Jacob told The Newtown Bee this week, that the hearing could end up happening the first week of August depending on the timing of public notices that must be issued.

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.)

In a subsequent letter to the Council, Mr Mangiafico wrote, in part, “Our police department has received numerous complaints over the years pertaining to gunfire from various locations in town. We feel that the town’s [firearms] ordinance is loose in that it appears to allow discharge of any firearm at any time as long as the person discharging such firearm is on property he owns or leases.

"The [police] commission is very concerned about noise levels, but even more concerned about the safety of its citizens," the memo continued. "It is our opinion that our ordinance needs to be reviewed and updated in light of the apparent unintentional allowance of a dangerous situation being allowed."

The Ordinance Committee first took up the issue September 12, 2012 in the High School cafeteria, with a large audience and almost two dozen who stepped up to speak. Ms Jacob attributed the early-on concerns to "ninety-nine point nine percent shooting enthusiasts," reacting to a rumor that the council was looking to institute a shooting ban townwide.

But after several meetings, the crowds began to wane.

"Maybe people started seeing we were not out to ban shooting in town, and that a lot of good common sense work was being done," Ms Jacob said. "I think they also saw that we didn't have the votes from the onset to ban outdoor shooting."

She pointed out early, and throughout the process that included 13 meeting through June 6 of this year, 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."

She said the committee decided to scrap the existing ordinance early in the process as well, because it would have been too cumbersome to try and amend in its prior format.

To illustrate the prior ordinance's 500-foot rule, however, Ms Jacob had a GIS map printed that showed all of the towns current one, two and three acre parcels. "From that map you could easily see that if you wanted to shoot outside on virtually any of those pieces of property, you'd have to get written permission from four or five of your neighbors," she said.

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 draft states that persons participating in the discharging of a firearm must be the owner of the property the discharge is taking place on, 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 draft.?

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.

"That way we can be more comfortable that safety is of the utmost importance," Ms Jacob said.

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.

"So basically you wouldn't be shooting within a half-mile radius of that school when school is in session," she said, referring to Head O Meadow School.

The other major restriction would be a police monitored program limiting any outdoor shooting to more than four hours a day.

"Now if you want to shoot, you have to log in with the police and the meter starts running on your four hours," Ms Jacob said.

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 CT General Statutes, when acting within the scope of his/ her duties.

*Shall not apply to hunting as defined in Section 26 of the CT 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.

Anyone who wishes to speak to the ordinance proposal, can either contact one or more of their district council representatives directly, appear at the scheduled hearing, or at the full council meeting when final action on the ordinance is on the agenda, Ms Jacob said.

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