Firing ranges draw fire in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — Owners of firing ranges and their neighbors disagreed Monday on just about everything related to proposed revisions of the town’s ordinance on weapons.

The changes were presented to the Town Council by Councilor David Watson on Monday.

Approximately 20 citizens spoke forcefully about whether private firing ranges should be regulated more heavily; most of those who spoke were residents of Oak Ridge Road and Bunganuc Road, which is home to one of the ranges in question.

Many said that they supported gun ownership and hunting in general, but that the noise generated by sustained target shooting sessions is diminishing their quality of life.

“It’s terrifying,” Jill Standish of Oak Ridge Road said. “It’s not just an annoyance. It’s really scary.”

Michael Laskey said the ordinance needs a major revision, and characterized Watson’s changes as “tweaking.”

“In the past I have endured six hours of shooting on a beautiful Sunday afternoon,” he said.

Firing range license holders took issue with the idea that there are regular six-hour sessions. Mike Malis of Bunganuc Road said he has shot for only four hours over a four-month period, while Ted Crooker estimated he used his range on Old Bath Road for only about 15 days out of the year.

“If it doesn’t happen but once in a blue moon, I don’t think it’s worth writing an ordinance for that blue moon,” Crooker said.

Many residents offered conflicting testimony.

Firing range owners said that the noise levels are about 100 decibels or less; neighbors cited a noise level of 180 decibels. Some said that the ranges drive down property values, a notion that others disputed.

Neighbors said that the lead bullets constitute an environmental threat, while range owners said that they do not.

Both sides cited laws that they believe support their view.

When presenting the ordinance to the council, Watson made a statement that was refuted often throughout the night.

“This is not a noise ordinance,” Watson said, “but a weapons ordinance that deals specifically with public safety.”

“David said it’s not about noise,” Oak Ridge Road resident Steve Tibbetts said. “Well, it is.” He noted that loud music and boisterous gatherings are not allowed under town law because of their noise levels.

“Somehow, through this ordinance, gunfire will be exempted from this requirement,” Tibbetts said.

Approximately eight years ago, Brunswick created a weapons ordinance that allows homeowners to establish private ranges on their property. The intent was to create a safe and regulated outlet for target shooting that might otherwise be dangerous.

But over the past two years, residents said, the frequency, duration, and noise levels have all increased to an intolerable point.

The revised ordinance slightly restricts the hours during which shooting is permissible. Under the current ordinance, shooting is allowed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. The revisions would restrict Sunday shooting times to between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Under the new ordinance, the licenses issued to private shooting ranges would only have to be renewed every three years, rather than annually.

Another change to the ordinance says that a neighbor may not “interfere or attempt to interfere with the lawful operation of a licensed target practice site, or to intimidate or harass the owner or licensed operator of a licensed target practice site.”

Neighbors said that they are concerned that the new clause could be used to stifle legitimate complaints.

Joanne Rosenthal suggested specific changes to the ordinance, and advocated for better signs, annual renewals, a removal of the clause that targets harassment of private range owners, and a process by which neighbors could appeal licenses, both before and after they are issued.

After the public comments, Watson stressed to the public and other council members that he would like to be the focal point for future proposed revisions. He reiterated that the ordinance was designed to address safety, rather than noise, issues.

Watson said that he would make further revisions based on the input he had received.

“We have to try to find that balance,” he said. “That’s what this was an attempt to do.”

Chairwoman Joanne King and Councilor Benet Pols assured the crowd that their comments had been heard, and were valued.

A revised version of the ordinance will be presented for a public hearing at some point in the future.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

Revised on April 18 to correct Michael Laskey’s opening quote.

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