The Town Council agreed at their meeting Monday night to consult with the Town’s attorneys before moving forward with drafting an ordinance to address concerns with target shooting in the Musquash Conservation Area.
Proposals for addressing safety concerns with shooting on the 1,000 acre parcel, established in 1979 by the Conservation Commission and expanded upon with easements the Town and State purchased, ranged from banning “unlawful” shooting throughout the entire town to a complete ban on discharging firearms in the Musquash. The Council also discussed limiting recreational use in the Musquash to hunting during hunting season.
“I think the problem is shooting, not target shooting,” said Councilor Tom Freda, adding he learned through New Hampshire Fish and Game that four people died in New Hampshire from hunting accidents between 2001 and 2010. “We need to ban all shooting in the Musquash. If we ban target shooting, we only ensure any future injury will be done by a hunter.”
“If you listened in the meeting, people said the issue is target shooting,” Councilor Jim Butler disagreed. He referred to a public meeting called earlier this month to discuss target shooting in the Musquash.
“This is feel good legislation that’s not going to make a difference,” Freda argued.
Target shooting is legal in the Musquash, so there’s not much the Police Department can do when calls come in regarding target shooting in the area, according to Police Chief Bill Hart.
In the last five years, Hart said the department has responded to 60 calls related to target shooting in the Musquash, with the vast majority being resident complaints of gunshots in the area.
In relation to the total number of calls, 30,000 calls for that five-year period, Hart said target shooting related calls come in about once per month.
Police Capt. Gerard Dussault said passing a town-wide ban on all “unlawful shooting,” or discharging any firearm that is not in defense of a person, at an appropriate target venue, or lawful hunting, would be easier for the Police to enforce than a ban on target shooting in the Musquash.
“We know our Town boundaries, but we don’t know conservation areas like the Musquash,” he said, noting the department has a limited number of patrol officers on the street to respond to traffic incidents, burglaries, and other calls that come in with complaints about shooting.
Additionally, Dussault said if target shooting is only banned in the Musquash, the problem will likely just move to another conservation area in town.
“There are two competing groups of recreators, shooters and people using the trails,” Chairman Tom Dolan said, noting there are additional options the Council may consider other than banning target shooting in the Musquash.
One such solution may be restricting use of the property when hunters are out; for example, the Town would ban all unlawful shooting, except in the case of hunting, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1. During that time, the Musquash would be off-limits to everyone but hunters.
Councilor John Farrell asked Town Manager Kevin Smith and Capt. Dussault what putting an ordinance in place would require from an enforcement standpoint.
If the Town banned target shooting in the Musquash and tasked an officer with patrolling all that space, it would cost around $200,000, including the officer’s training and equipment.
Londonderry wouldn’t be the first community in Southern New Hampshire to impose a ban on target shooting. Pembroke, Bow, Merrimack, Pelham, and Exeter have all enacted ordinances that preclude shooting guns on conservation land except in the case of hunting.
Moving forward, the Council hopes to learn more regarding what restrictions on shooting they can legally set and enforce. From there, the Council intends to hold another public workshop and draft legislation.
The Councilors agreed as they move into budget season, they would like to get a sense for how enforcement of a new ordinance limiting or banning target shooting would impact the budget.