Top 10, No. 10: Gun regulations draw fire
Two county communities hosted at times heated debates this year about where lines should be drawn between the right to shoot firearms and the right to neighborhood peace and safety.
The situations and the results varied.
In Whiting neighbors of a gun range that town officials said was illegal complained about noise and safety. About two dozen showed up at a zoning board hearing in July to oppose ongoing shooting at a Stickney Road range. The owner, Nicolas Iocco, said he no longer runs the range as a business, although he would accept donations.
In August the zoning board held a site visit and hearing on zoning notice of violations issued to the Stickney Road gun range. The notice alleged it is an illegal commercial range, that structures on the site were not permitted, and that it was an unsafe public nuisance.
Its operator maintained its hours were reasonable, and its topography makes it safe. But neighbors disagreed and claimed a video he showed back at town offices of the earlier hearing was misleadingly edited — some tempers flared.
Ultimately, Iocco appealed to the zoning board the notice of violations issued by zoning administrator Kate Briggs, but the board upheld the positions that it was a commercial operation and a public nuisance. At year’s end, a town official said Iocco was staring at fines of $200 a day dating back to May — roughly $40,000 — but according to town officials was not accepting zoning officials’ position.
Elsewhere, neighbors also complained about informal shooting ranges in Goshen, Lincoln and Ripton, but the situations did not evolve to the same level as Whiting’s.
In Bristol spring incidents of guns being fired near homes prompted the selectboard in April to ask Police Chief Kevin Gibbs to research a town ordinance on gun use. Gibbs checked laws elsewhere and then recommended for selectboard consideration a law that would, among other restrictions, ban discharging firearms, bows or similar weapons within 500 feet of someone else’s property, but allow the chief to grant permits for exceptions to that rule.
A late-July selectboard hearing on the proposed ordinance drew about 70 residents, with most opposed. Their main arguments against the law was that it was unnecessary and wouldn’t prevent isolated incidents of irresponsible shooting.
“You just can’t fix stupid,” one resident said.
Proponents said the law would promote safety without infringing rights. One described an incident in which a handgun was fired in the direction of a road in one neighborhood, but then said she was told by Vermont State Police there was nothing they could do without a town ordinance. Another person said two people were shooting pistols within 100 feet of a home.
In early August the selectboard put an end to the proposed gun ordinance. Board members pointed to the public opposition, and they noted the spring incidents that had prompted the proposal had not been repeated. They unanimously spoke against the law, saying it was unwieldy and unnecessary.
“I totally understand the safety concerns,” said Selectboard Chairman John “Peeker” Heffernan. “But if somebody is going to discharge a weapon in village limits I doubt an ordinance is going to change that.”
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