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Gun club optimistic about Cape Elizabeth ordinance

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Gun club optimistic about Cape Elizabeth ordinance

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday received a revised draft of a shooting range ordinance and scheduled a public hearing on the matter for March 10.

The council could vote to adopt the ordinance at the conclusion of the public hearing, but is expected to wait until a future meeting to do so.

While residents continued to debate how and whether to regulate the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, gun club officials expressed optimism about the direction the ordinance may be taking.

The council's ordinance committee met three times in January to review the ordinance, which was written by attorney Ken Cole using National Rifle Association standards and similar ordinances from nearby communities as guides.

The committee made revisions, including the makeup of a proposed firing range committee, and the amount of time (180 days) the club would have to submit a completed license application if the ordinance is enacted.

Cole addressed the council and fielded questions on Monday. He prefaced his remarks by noting that there is no legal requirement for the ordinance and that similar requests in the past went unfulfilled.

He added that a 1941 ordinance on disturbing the peace, which has been cited by some residents as evidence that the club is in violation of town law, in fact specifically allows the shooting of firearms at authorized ranges.

"The existing firearms ordinance of the town of Cape Elizabeth allows the discharge of firearms affirmatively at the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club,” Cole said.

Councilor David Sherman said several residents have complained that the club, which has existed on Sawyer Road for 57 years, has grown considerably noisier over the past decade.

Tammy Walter, who on Feb. 6 was elected president of the Spurwink club, disagreed. Walter said she has lived a mile from the club for the past 18 years.

"The sound of gunfire has always been part of life in my neighborhood. The sound hasn’t changed since I’ve lived there," she said. "Two years ago, I purchased a handgun, and lucky for me, I knew right where to go to safely practice."

Walter, who holds a degree in criminal justice, is the first female president in the club's history.

"I decided to take this position for two reasons," she said. "Number one, I personally care about the club and our members. Number two, I took this position because I believe our members’ commitment to be a safe and responsible part of our community. ... Safety is my number one priority. My goal and my hope is that our club is in harmony with the community and all our neighbors."

Former club President Mark Mayone also spoke during a public comment period, offering to cap club membership and requesting a council workshop where the club could detail its plans for safety improvements. He asked the council to consider folding the ordinance into the town's existing firearms ordinance, rather than creating a new law that would, in effect, single out the Spurwink club.

Cathy Kline, a resident of the Cross Hill subdivision, which abuts the club, was one of several people to call for an independent evaluation of the club's safety.

The club hired an NRA-certified reviewer to perform an evaluation in 2012. The reviewer gave the club a passing grade, according to Mayone, but also suggested a list of improvements, which the club has used to guide its renovation plans. The club has declined to make the results of that evaluation public because, "We dont trust that our goodwill wouldn't be used against us by the residents who have issues with us," Mayone said this week.

That's not good enough for some Cape Elizabeth residents.

"I know they’re going for improvements, but we all know that accidents do happen at shooting ranges, and we want to know where it stands today in terms of shot containment," Kline said. "And we feel that having a professional range evaluation would go a long way in assuring, not just the neighbors, but the residents of the town in general that it is indeed a safe place."

Mayone said he and the club's membership felt positive about the council meeting.

"I think we're coming to terms with the ordinance a little bit more," Mayone said. "The sense I've been getting after the last couple ordinance committee meetings and (Monday's) meeting, I have a feeling we're going to be able to work this out rather than go (to court). I was really nervous when we started this whole process, and that nervousness has pretty much been taken away."

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.