Essex Selectboard scraps shooting range notification proposal

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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) The Essex Selectboard is scrapping a proposed amendment that would have required people with target shooting ranges in their backyards to fill out a notification form and register their range with the town.

The decision was announced at a public meeting Monday.

Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney says the board decided to strike the proposal after a contentious public hearing on Aug. 19.

Target shooters who attended that meeting told the select board they felt the measure was an infringement on their privacy since the registry would have been made public.

Board members had previously said the goal was to keep track of how many shooting ranges there are in town and to enforce safety regulations. At the latest meeting, Haney said it was would be tough to enforce.

“We came to the decision that it was not going to ensure public safety in a way that we want it to,” said Haney.

The ordinance also stated that all ranges would be required to have warning signs that meet National Rifle Association guidelines posted at 100-foot intervals along the entire perimeter of the facility. Failure to do so would result in penalties.

People against the ordinance said it was unfair for the town to restrict target shooting and not other forms of recreation.

Haney says the board also did research and spoke with law enforcement before coming to the conclusion that the amendment could potentially get the town into legal trouble.

“If you ask someone to fill out a form that certifies that they have a shooting range on their property, therefore the town is aware of that shooting range, and if something happens on that shooting range, is the town liable for not doing something about it prior? It’s a little shaky,” Haney said.

The board told those in favor of the proposal that public safety remains their priority but a “yes” vote on this particular ordinance wouldn’t be a “healthy yes.”

They’re now going back to the drawing board and hoping to write a law that will prevent deaths such as John Reiss’ who died after being hit by a stray bullet in Sept. 2008 that was fired off at a nearby shooting range.

“We still have had a very tragic death in our community as a result of reckless shooting,” said Haney. “Human error happens but we need to take as many steps as we possibly can within the law to make sure our community is safe and we’re going to do that.”

Haney says the board is looking at Colchester and Williston’s firearms ordinances to get ideas.

She says she would like to adopt a law similar to their density-based zoning ordinance. It dictates where you can and can’t shoot. It also talks about what kinds of weapons can be discharged based on location.

The select board also voted unanimously to extend the start of hunting season from Nov. 1 to Oct. 15.

The season still ends on Dec. 15. You can only shoot at Indian Brook Park and Saxon Hill Park.