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Bristol considers firearms law

BRISTOL — Selectboard members are considering an ordinance that would regulate the discharge of firearms in Bristol. The ordinance, if passed, would be a first of its kind in the town.
The local law, which the Bristol selectboard heard about at their June 26 meeting, would prohibit firing a gun “within a safety zone of 500 feet from another person’s/entity’s residence, building, place of business or camper in the town of Bristol.”
Discharge of firearms is also prohibited on or within 500 feet of any town-owned property and within 1,000 feet of any school.
Residents may apply to the chief of police for a permit to discharge firearms within the safety zone. The chief of police would inspect the site and approve or deny the permit. Such permit decisions could be appealed.
The ordinance also lists exceptions under which firearms could be discharged within the 500-foot safety zone, including self-defense and the humane termination or a rabid or threatening animal.
The ordinance does not apply to such categories of persons or activities as:
•  Police officers in the line of duty.
•  Lawful butchering of animals.
•  Lawfully permitted shooting ranges.
•  Ceremonial salutes on special occasions using blank cartridges.
•  Property owners and their tenants, family members and people invited to their own property where firearms discharge is done safely and beyond the safety zone distances of neighboring structures.
Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs emphasized that no permit is needed for discharging firearms outside of the proscribed safety zone and that the ordinance has no bearing on the possession of firearms per se. Indeed, the proposed law includes the line, including the capitalization and bold: “NOTHING in this ordinance shall be construed to limit the mere possession of firearms.”
Instead, the ordinance is intended to support greater safety and education about the appropriate handling of firearms.
“Twenty, 30 years ago they taught gun safety in school. That doesn’t happen as much any more,” said Gibbs. “And I think that some people — well meaning as they might be — just go out in their back yard and decide they’re going to shoot at a target with no training or experience at all. That’s what this ordinance helps us address: those people who really haven’t gotten proper training.”
Gibbs continued, “If it’s the board’s desire to do nothing with this ordinance, that is your prerogative. I think it makes good sense. It gives us a tool to keep people safe.”
The selectboard will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on July 24 at 7 p.m. at the conference room in Holley Hall. Board members plan to vote on the ordinance on Aug. 7.
The selectboard had asked Gibbs in mid-April to draft an ordinance regulating the discharge of firearms within Bristol after a number of residents — both from within and outside the village — came to the April 17 meeting with concerns about recent incidents in which persons had discharged firearms in close proximity to homes.
In one such example, a Broadview Estates resident described driving home to find someone shooting from their back deck in the direction of oncoming traffic.
In drafting the proposed ordinance, Gibbs looked at how discharging firearms is handled by other Vermont communities. Gibbs brought a first draft of the ordinance to the selectboard’s May 15 meeting for selectboard feedback. Based on that discussion, he returned with a draft last Monday.
Board members did not express sentiments about the proposed ordinance at the meeting. Two Bristol residents expressed reservations about it on an electronic message board later in the week.
Jim Quaglino of Upper Notch Road posted that the ordinance would be an overreaction and he feared it could lead to violation of his second amendment rights, though he did not say the ordinance itself was a violation nor give a scenario in which such a violation could occur. He wrote that when someone is alleged to put people in jeopardy with gunfire then police should urge that person to use common sense and safety.
Fred Schroeder of Notch Road wrote in his posting that the ordinance was unnecessary because it was redundant to state law that allows homeowners to post their land prohibiting discharge of firearms and bows.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at gaenm@addisonindependent.com.

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