The Legislative Council’s Ordinance Committee fielded a range of public comments April 11 on a proposal to rework the town’s gun ordinance to better address the various issues, including public safety, posed by target shooting on residential properties.
Mary Ann Jacob, who chairs the committee, said she expects that the panel’s review of the topic would take several months to complete, possibly extending into the fall.
The Ordinance Committee is next scheduled to discuss the target shooting issue on May 8.
About 50 people attended the April 11 session, including many target shooters and nonshooters.
Police Chief Michael Kehoe attended the committee session, offering advice from a law enforcement perspective.
“Our aim is public safety. It’s always going to be public safety,” Chief Kehoe said of the reason for target shooting regulations.
Ronald Polard of Point O’ Rocks Road told committee members, “This is a lot of to do about nothing… What we are dealing with are feelings, not facts.” A very low percentage of residents have complained to town officials about problems posed by target shooting in residential areas, Mr Polard said.
Mr Polard asked that committee members consider creating a “grandfather clause” in any proposed ordinance that would exempt existing target ranges from the provisions of that ordinance. Mr Polard said that new target range rules would constitute a “burden” for him
Aaron Cox of Pond Brook Road observed that Newtown has been injected into the national spotlight by the December 14 mass murders that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In view of that, town officials must be careful and fair in terms of addressing the target shooting issue, he said.
A common man should be able to safely shoot firearms on his own property, Mr Cox said.
Mr Cox suggested certain provisions for an ordinance regulating target shooting. Target shooting is safe, he said. “Target shooting is part of my heritage … Everyone, even shooters, have rights that need to be respected.”
Barbara Richardson of Osborne Hill Road told committee members it is unfortunate that some children are now fearful of playing outdoors when gunfire is heard during target shooting sessions in residential areas. An improved ordinance covering target shooting is needed, she said.
Eric Poupon of Split Rock Road said he is a member of a local ad hoc group known as Parents For A Safer Newtown. Group members have reviewed the issues posed by target shooting, resulting in their proposal for an ordinance to regulate such activity, he said, adding that the group believes the various safety measures which it proposes would make for positive change.
Mr Poupon said that police receive many complaints about the problems posed by target shooting. For procedural reasons, all such complaints are not formally registered as “complaints” in the police record keeping system, he said.
Mr Poupon told committee members that several times last summer, there were days when six to eight hours of nonstop gunfire occurred in his area. He said on one occasion, a worker who was laboring on a roof was struck by a stray bullet.
When they were called to address the problems, the police did nothing to stop the activity, Mr Poupon said.
Robert Hutchinson of Split Rock Road, a member of Parents For A Safer Newtown, explained the specifics of a detailed proposed ordinance he has formulated on target shooting. He urged that the committee support his proposed ordinance.
Peter Muckell of Dinglebrook Lane endorsed Mr Hutchinson’s ordinance proposal. Mr Muckell added that it is unreasonable to have the public subjected to extended periods of gunfire noise emanating from target ranges.
Frank Hufner of Brushy Hill Road, representing the Newtown Fish & Game Club, said that due to an increased local population, people who shoot firearms need to be “extra-cautious.”
Mr Hufner asked whether certain measures that would be specified in a target shooting ordinance would economically undermine the viability of shooting ranges.
“I would hate to see all target shooting abolished in Newtown,” he said.
Mr Hufner suggested the possibility of the town creating a public shooting range on public land. He added, however, that the existence of such a facility should not prevent the local presence of private gun ranges.
Mr Hufner observed that people who shoot at exploding targets are involved in a dangerous activity.
Safety is the prime concern at gun ranges, he stressed. “Reasonable shooting hours are not an unreasonable request,” he said.
Paul D’Agastino of Juniper Road endorsed Mr Hutchinson’s ordinance proposal.
“This [shooting activity] is about safety and responsibility,” he said.
Lawrence Thompson of Osborne Hill Road said that in view of the Sandy Hook School killings, some local children are scared and find themselves experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Target shooting does not occur in a vacuum, he noted. Target shooting poses a constant reminder to the children of what happened at Sandy Hook School, Mr Thompson said.
Hundreds of children will need to emotionally recover from the December 14 incident, he said, adding that the well-being and growth of children should be protected.
David Stowe of Patricia Lane told committee members that an ordinance regulating target ranges amounts to what is strictly a public safety issue.
Russell Jagoe of Monitor Hill Road said that the Ordinance Committee’s review of the target range issue is based on very few complaints from the public.
Mr Jagoe said that he is greatly disappointed that the committee would eventually propose some new rules based on the town receiving few complaints.