Bristol leaders say ‘no’ to gun ordinance

BRISTOL — Members of the Bristol selectboard unanimously rejected a proposed gun ordinance at their meeting this past Monday, agreeing that the proposal would do nothing to prevent irresponsible gun ownership and may create more of a liability for the town.
“Throw it out. It’s completely unnecessary,” Selectman Ted Lylis said at the meeting, attended by about a dozen people. “It has just resulted in an extremely divisive situation. I don’t see the need for it.”
The agenda for the Aug. 7 meeting had set aside 45 minutes for discussion of the proposal, but the discussion by board members and the public lasted roughly half that time.
The proposed ordinance originated this past spring after several Bristol residents brought concerns to the selectboard about individuals discharging firearms near their homes. State police said they could not intervene because there was no town ordinance regarding gunfire.
The selectboard asked Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs to look at similar ordinances in other towns and draft a proposed ordinance for Bristol. Gibbs’ proposal — which in general would have prohibited discharging firearms within a 500-foot safety zone around someone else’s property with some exceptions — drew about 70 people to a July 24 hearing. Most of those who spoke then opposed it.
Selectboard members did not speak about their feelings on the proposal at the July 24 hearing, but they did on Monday.
Selectboard member Peter Coffey said those instances reported by residents this spring on their own did not merit an ordinance, since they were one-time occurrences.
“I think we need nothing. I don’t think it’s a major issue. Neither one of these instances have been repeated,” Coffey said. “I think if we just continue as we have been we’ll be fine.”
Selectboard Chair John “Peeker” Heffernan agreed.
“I totally understand the safety concerns, but if somebody is going to discharge a weapon in village limits I doubt an ordinance is going to change that,” he said.
On Monday, members of the selectboard expressed concern that sending police officers to visit properties may not be an efficient use of the officer’s time and could pose a liability.
“The ordinance as it stands, the way it’s written, I’m not happy with it,” Heffernan said. “I’m very concerned about the town’s liability should we send an officer out to deem whether or not it’s safe to shoot. I just think there’s too much that can go wrong.”
While most of those who spoke at the July 24 hearing opposed to the proposed ordinance, all of the selectboard members were against it on Monday.
“I was really impressed two weeks ago when we had a really good community discussion. Everybody was very civil with each other. I just don’t think an ordinance is going to fix it,” Selectman Joel Bouvier said. “I think we ought to just put a knife through it and throw it out.”
Virginia Burkowski, a Bristol resident who had advocated for the ordinance, spoke briefly at Monday’s hearing and expressed her frustration with the board’s decision.
“I’m a bit disillusioned by this whole process,” she said. “In all of these meetings I didn’t hear one constructive suggestion to (Police Chief Gibbs) about creating an ordinance, guiding him towards what you wanted. It was like from the beginning you decided ‘I own a gun, I’m not going to be limited, forget this.’ And it’s very upsetting to those of us who are looking for our safety, as well as the gun owners’ rights.” 

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