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Selectmen tweak Weston firearms ordinance

weston-gunWeston selectmen were eager to take a final vote on revisions to the town’s firearms ordinance at last Thursday’s board meeting, but after hearing from the public and learning new information from the police chief, they put off the decision.

“We want to make sure we get it right the first time,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.

Ms. Weinstein began the public hearing — held right before the selectmen’s meeting — by telling the selectmen and the public she had learned in the past week there is an issue with the section of the firearms ordinance that deals with residential target practice.

The current town ordinance includes a provision that requires residents to obtain a permit from the chief of police for residential target practice, and this requirement remains in the proposed amended version of the ordinance.

However, in speaking last week with Chief of Police John Troxell, Ms. Weinstein said, she discovered no one had ever applied for or received a target practice permit; in fact, no evidence could be found of any target practice permit forms or procedures in the police department files, she said.

In addition, Chief Troxell expressed concern, she said, about the possibility of liability if he were to ever issue a permit. If he issues a permit and then a stray bullet injures someone or causes property damage, the first selectman asked, might the town or the chief be held liable? This is a question for the town attorney, she said.

Selectman David Muller, who participated in the public hearing by speakerphone, asked if the issue of liability had ever come up when the original ordinance was drafted.

Mark Harper, the town’s animal control officer and one of the people who wrote the original firearms ordinance in 1990, said he does not know if the town could be held liable. But as far as state hunting regulations go, he said, one must be a minimum of 500 feet from any residential building in order to discharge a firearm. Because so many of Weston’s larger parcels of land have been subdivided, “I can tell you, there are not a lot of places left in town where you can discharge a firearm” given that restriction, Mr. Harper said.

Hearing

Several people spoke at the public hearing and all generally supported the revisions being proposed.

Jeff Mera of September Lane identified himself as a gun owner and a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association).

“I’m very happy with this. … [Q]uite honestly, I have no desire to fire a firearm on my property, nor do I want my neighbors shooting on their property,” Mr. Mera said.

Beth Gralnick, vice chairman of the Police Commission, said her board reviewed the proposed changes and had three main concerns, all of which the selectmen agreed were valid and should be addressed by making slight changes to the wording in the ordinance. These include:

• The proposal says target shooting, other than permitted residential target practice, may take place “exclusively” at the Weston Gun Club and the Weston Field Club. Ms. Gralnick said the Police Commission recommends adding “or at the discretion of the Board of Selectmen” because “things can change.”

• The proposal says those under 16 may discharge a weapon if they are under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or a school or camp official. The commission suggested adding that the school or camp counselor must be 18 years old or older.

• And the commission pointed out that the penalty section states a parent or legal guardian is responsible for penalties if a child violates the ordinance. That should be changed to a “minor child,” Ms. Gralnick said, so if, for example, a 45-year-old violates the ordinance, his 85-year-old parents won’t be liable.

Resident Bob Ferguson said despite being opposed to the original changes the Board of Selectmen were considering, he completely supports the gun ordinance changes. “I think it’s exactly what Weston should have as far as a firearms law,” Mr. Ferguson said.

He said he was concerned, however, that the ordinance might set a precedent as far as allowing the Board of Selectmen to make ordinances that supersede state law.

The board is allowed to make laws that are stronger than state laws, as long as they are not contradictory to state laws, Ms. Weinstein said.

Selectman Dennis Tracey added that the board has only “the authority the state gives us,” and that is limited to protecting the health and welfare of the town’s citizens. The board may not pass ordinances that don’t fall within those parameters, Mr. Tracy said.

No decision

At its meeting after the public hearing, the board agreed it needed more information and input on, especially, the issue of residential target practice.

Ms. Weinstein said the board’s options include banning target practice on private property altogether, or creating the permitting system called for in the original ordinance.

“I’m not prepared to make a decision on that tonight,” Selectman Tracy said Thursday. Mr. Muller and Ms. Weinstein agreed.

“I think it’s important we do our due diligence and homework,” Ms. Weinstein said.

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