Despite some objections to a ban on residential target practice, the Board of Selectmen passed a revised firearms ordinance on Monday, June 10. The unanimous vote brought to a conclusion a six-month process of trying to tighten the town’s gun regulations in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.
“I want to thank everyone who commented and who was a part of this process,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.
Before voting on the ordinance revisions, the selectmen held a public hearing, during which several people voiced concerns about limiting target practice to the private Weston Gun Club and Weston Field Club.
Ed Strauss said the ordinance is worded in a way that encourages proper training and safe use of guns, and yet prohibits target practice on private land. “Why do you want to say even if it’s done safely, it’s still not OK — I don’t understand,” Mr. Strauss said.
A pool is potentially more dangerous than target practice in a controlled area, Mr. Strauss added, and those are not banned in town.
Resident Margaret Wirtenberg said Mr. Strauss raised a good point. If the town were to allow target practice only at a private club, might that not be considered discriminatory, she asked.
Ms. Weinstein said she wanted to be clear the selectmen are not against target shooting. “We believe it’s an honorable sport,” she said. However, after speaking with the police, members of the gun club, and the town attorney, the board was concerned with the issue of liability.
If the police chief is asked to OK target shooting on someone’s property, and then a stray bullet injures or kills someone, the town might then be liable. “The police chief has said he’s not comfortable making that decision,” Ms. Weinstein said.
In addition, the town’s previous firearms ordinance, which has been on the books for more than 20 years, included a provision for applying for a permit for target shooting on private property. According to Police Chief John Troxell, in the past two decades, no one has ever applied for a target shooting permit, nor to his knowledge do permit forms even exist.
If people have been shooting for target practice on their property up to now, Ms. Weinstein said, they have not been doing so legally. “We felt we had to put some controls in place,” she said.
Another concern was voiced by Don Saltzman, who said he would like to see the word “outdoor” added to the ban on target practice. That would allow people to have target ranges in their basements — something Mr. Saltzman said he has seen in Weston.
“To regulate something in the house is an assault on privacy,” he said.
Ms. Weinstein pointed out that in this situation, too, no one has ever applied for a permit, as was required by the previous ordinance.
Bob Ferguson questioned the ordinance’s ban on discharging a machine gun or assault weapon within the town of Weston. The regulation still allows hunting, however, and someone could hunt lawfully with a registered assault weapon, as long as it was grand-fathered in by the state, Mr. Ferguson said.
Mark Harper, the town’s animal control officer, a self-professed longtime hunter and one of the authors of the town’s original firearms ordinance, said he was in favor of the changes being made. They add needed safety measures and clarify things that were unclear or unenforceable, he said.
“I love guns. I love hunting. I love to shoot. But the reality is there isn’t the room for it [in Weston] anymore,” Mr. Harper said.
State law says while hunting, no one may discharge a weapon within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling. Mr. Harper said there is almost no place in Weston anymore where that requirement can be met.
“I love hunting, so I go where I have to go to do it legally and safely,” he said. “I think this ordinance is a good one.”