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Petition triggers balloting on Salisbury law limiting gun use

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Posted on July 18, 2016 |
By John Flowers



SALISBURY — A new law endorsed by the Salisbury selectboard that aims to reduce the odds of accidental shootings in town has backfired in the opinion of some local residents.

They are seeking to repeal the ordinance through a townwide vote on Tuesday, July 19, because they believe the measure might restrict hunting within the community and perhaps even affect their right to own guns.

But Salisbury selectboard members — who unanimously backed the ordinance back on April 26 — said the local law is simply a public safety measure that would not affect hunters and would in no way infringe on citizens’ Constitutional right to bear arms.

“This is in no way intended to obstruct or hinder legal hunting,” Selectman Tom Scanlon said on Thursday. “But public safety is paramount, particularly in the more populated areas of town.”

It is residents from those more populated areas — surrounding Lake Dunmore and in the village — who lobbied for the repeal of the “Salisbury Ordinance Restricting the Discharge of Firearms,” according to town officials.

“There have been complaints of shooting in the village,” said Selectwoman Ramona “Pedie” O’Brien. “When out of the blue you hear a gun blast go off, it’s scary. We want to keep things as safe as possible.”

The new law specifically prohibits “the firing or discharge of a firearm … within a safety zone of 200 feet from any residence, building or camper in the High Density Residential/Village Center (HDR district), or the Lakeshore District Areas,” the ordinance language reads.

The ordinance does not prevent residents from using a firearm to kill a rabid animal or in self defense within the specified 200 feet of a home. Law enforcement officials are also exempt from the regulations.

Violation of the ordinance would be a civil matter, enforced in the “Vermont Judicial Bureau or in Addison County Superior Court,” according to the ordinance. An initial violation of the law would carry a $150 fine; a second offense would set you back $300; and third and subsequent offenses would result in a $500 fine.

By statute, the ordinance would have taken effect within 60 days of its passage by the selectboard on April 26. But Town Clerk Sue Scott received a petition on June 9 signed by 50 registered voters asking that the selectboard rescind the law. So residents will vote by Australian ballot this Tuesday, July 19, on the matter of affirming or tossing the new law.

The polls at the town office will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. A “no” vote will keep the ordinance in force and a “yes” vote will repeal the ordinance. A full copy of the ordinance is available on the town website www.townofsalisbury.org or at the town office.

Gill Laroche, a resident of Upper Plains Road, is among those who signed the citizens’ petition.

Laroche, a hunter, agrees with the notion that people shouldn’t shoot near people’s homes. But he believes that while a 200-foot safety zone makes sense in some cases, it might not in others.

“If I want to go in back of my house and target practice, I want to target practice,” he said.

“If you use your head, you don’t need to pass all these laws,” Laroche added.

But town officials said they believe the new ordinance makes sense.

Scanlon began research on the ordinance upon the advice of a Vermont Fish & Game warden. The warden, Scanlon said,  suggested enacting such a law would be easier than the alternative: Advising individual property owners post their land as “safety zones.”

The board last year passed a first draft of the law, but quickly withdrew it after discovering a few errors. That first draft included the word “hunting,” when only the state has the ability to regulate that activity, according to Scanlon. And it also did not include a “severability” provision. Such a provision — which the current draft includes — ensures that if a judge were to strike down a part of the ordinance, the rest  of it would remain valid.

Middlebury is among many Vermont towns that have enacted firearm ordinances similar to the one Salisbury is trying to pass, according to Scanlon. He is optimistic the ordinance will be affirmed by Tuesday’s vote.

“I think it will (be upheld), based on my conversations with people,” Scanlon said.

Rebecca S. Holmes is editor of The Spotted Salamander, a community newsletter for Salisbury. She wrote an opinion piece on the firearms ordinance in the recently published summer 2016 edition of the publication.

“Let’s not let this law go down because only a few people show up at the polls,” she concludes. “After all, your child, your husband, your wife, your dog or your visitor could be a victim. Let’s keep Salisbury residents safe.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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