Whiting gun range triggers controversy

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WHITING, Vt. (WCAX) "I was 12 years old when my grandpa took me out and we shot a BB gun for the first time," said Nick Iocco of Whiting.

That was decades ago. Now, Iocco shoots rifles that can hit targets in the fields in Whiting that he owns along with two other cooperative neighbors.

Last year, the 35-year-old turned his love for shooting into a business, charging people $50 a day to use his range. He says the Vermont State Police sniper tactical team was just one of many organizations that used his range. But due to state regulations five months in, he had to close to the public. Now, he says he and his buddies are the only people who shoot on this land.

"Everything we shoot up against has a proper bullet stop," Iocco said.

In May, Iocco got a letter in the mail saying he violated town zoning regulations by hosting an illegal, commercial gun range that poses a safety hazard and nuisance to his neighbors.

"This is not a Second Amendment issue. This is not about people having firearms. This is about under what circumstances they can be safely used," said Kate Briggs, the zoning administrator in Whiting.

Briggs says she doesn't go looking for violations, they are typically reported by neighbors.

Stacey Freegard lives across the road from the range and says she's concerned for her safety and the well-being of her dogs.

"We don't have a problem with somebody shooting, but when it's 6, 7, 8 hours at a time... the dogs are terrified," she said.

Iocco says between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. there can be constant gunfire. He says understands his neighbors' frustrations with the noise.

"Gunfire is not quiet," Iocco said.

But Iocco says if he's not breaking the law, he's not going to stop.

Briggs says by continuing to charge visitors to use the facility, he is breaking the law.

"That's what commerce is-- an exchange of money for goods and services," Briggs said.

If found guilty of the violations by the Whiting zoning board, Iocco could face a $200 fine for each day of illegal operations.

"Everybody, I feel, should have the ability to do what they feel they can legally do on their own property," Iocco said.

The town is having a hearing next Friday. That's when all sides will be able to make final statements.