A new ordinance is in effect that places a number of restrictions on target shooting in the Musquash Conservation Area.
Those in violation of the ordinance would face a $100 fine, for a first-time offense.
“I think this is an extraordinarily unsafe environment, and I think the citizens are ahead of us on this. They have started to retreat from the Musquash, because they are aware of the safety issue,” Councilor Tom Dolan said of the need for the ordinance at their meeting on Mon., Sept. 14.
Dolan, who served as a shooting instructor in the military, told the Council he “would have been Court Marshaled” if he had subjected his students to a training environment as unsafe as the Musquash.
“There are people shooting unknowingly in all directions, and in the direction of trails with casual walkers. This is an accident waiting to happen,” he said. “I think the goal we are trying to achieve is to make sure we preserve the rights of everyone who want to use this wonderful resource we have. But right now, there are a huge number of folks in town who have come forward and said, ‘I don’t feel safe using this space anymore.’ We’re trying to achieve middle ground through this ordinance and hopefully refine it with a warrant article next spring.”
With a 4-0 vote, the Council approved the ordinance on a trial basis, during which time the Police Department will work to educate the public about the new regulations and begin to enforce the ordinance.
The proposed ordinance is the product of much discussion and research completed by the Town’s Musquash Task Force, established in January of last year to study the issue of target shooting in the Musquash Conservation Area and other town-owned conservation land.
If approved, the ordinance would limit target shooting in the Musquash to turkey and deer hunting seasons by shooters with a valid New Hampshire Fish and Game license, who complete a check-in procedure with the Londonderry Police Department.
Additionally, the ordinance extends the protective shooting radius for discharging a firearm from 300-feet to 600-feet and establishes caliber restrictions equivalent to those allowed for hunting deer and turkey, with no center fire and no additional allowances for specified long rifles. The Council voted Monday to amend the ordinance to include .22 Long Range firearms.
“This is a firearm people use to teach their children how to fire,” Dolan said of the .22 LR.
Eric Melanson, of 7 Jewel Ct., a gun enthusiast, expressed concern with requirement shooters in the Musquash hold a Fish and Game hunting licensing, as well as the check-in procedure with the Police Department.
“I have never had a desire to shoot anything but paper targets out there; so, I have never had a hunting license. This seems unreasonably restrictive,” he said, adding that if he were to follow a check-in procedure at the Police Station, the police are going to go to the people who checked-in with any shooting complaints.“This is putting the burden on few doing things correct, not the few doing things incorrect.”
Dan Watson, who has been a voice for target shooters on the Musquash Task Force, said the Town could add to the ordinance other licensing and certifications, outside a New Hampshire Fish and Game hunting license that require a shooter undergo a training or safety course.
Members of the public also asked the Council to extend the hunting season out a week or more to allow shooters to “sight in” their firearm, but Dolan said it only takes up to an hour for someone with very little experience to sight in a firearm.
Ultimately, the Council plans to send the ordinance to the voters as a Warrant Article on the Town’s March ballot.
The Police Department will share its findings—whether or not the ordinance helped address target-shooting related concerns, and how—sometime in January.
At the Town’s Deliberative Session in February, the voters will have an opportunity to move the ordinance as written, or amended, to the March ballot, if they choose.
Moving forward, Police Chief Bill Hart said the Police Department will be launching an education campaign to raise awareness for the new ordinance among target shooters using the Musquash.
“I’m extremely happy this ordinance passed,” Councilor Joe Green said. “I think we have now established a level of safety the residents of Londonderry deserved.”
Chairman John Farrell encouraged residents to “be diligent” and “pick up the phone” when target shooting that does not adhere to the requirements of the ordinance is observed.
Where, in the past, the Police Department did not have enforceable regulations related to target shooting in the conservation area; officers now have an ordinance to stand on.
“If you see something, do something,” Farrell said.