Concerned neighbors and recreation enthusiasts called for an outright ban on target shooting in the Musquash and other town-owned conservation areas in a public hearing of the Musquash Task Force.
Abutters to the Musquash said at the March 25 public hearing that target shooting has only become an issue in the last three years.
Donna Traynham of 11 Faucher Road said she and her three children enjoyed recreating in the Musquash when they moved into their home and don’t have a problem with hunters.
But in the last three years, target shooting has become a safety issue and she won’t even let her children play near the entrances to the Musquash.
“We have created areas in our yard where they can play and get out of the house to move around. But on New Year’s, they were playing outside and came racing in, terrified because people were shooting Tannerite (exploding targets) right behind our home,” she said. “This has become not only a problem of neighbors not being able to enjoy the Musquash, residents aren’t even able to enjoy their yard and streets.”
“The noise goes on from early in the morning to late at night,” said Pam O’Brien of 70A Alexander Road, who has been living in her home her entire life. “It’s constant shooting that makes you fearful in your own home. I have a 5-year-old grandchild, and when we’re playing in the backyard, I have no idea where the bullets are coming from.”
But several other residents said a ban would restrict the rights of residents who enjoy shooting in the Musquash, noting the practice has been allowed in the conservation area for many years.
Conservation Commissioner Deb Lievens noted shooting was included as a use in the original documents drafted when the Town purchased some of the properties that comprise the Musquash Conservation Area.
“People moved into the area knowing hunting goes on there. The Musquash has been used for hundreds of years for shooting,” State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry said. “This is ‘feel good’ regulation. This is a ‘nose in the tent’ to stop any type of shooting in town.”
Some residents described the gunshots as “the sound of freedom,” with an Anthony Drive neighbor saying he moved to Londonderry so that he could enjoy target shooting in the Musquash near his home.
“This isn’t freedom. Gunshots are not freedom,” Tony Ramy of 15 Faucher Road said, noting the Musquash is an area that should be available for the entire community to use.
“This is not about taking away a freedom, it’s about restoring the freedom of people who want to enjoy the area, but can’t because of the safety issue,” David Ellis of 1 Wilshire Drive said.
Mike Considine, a member of the Task Force and the Conservation Commission, said he has witnessed a great deal of evidence in the Musquash to suggest bullets are flying down and across trails, as well as out of the Musquash into residential areas.
Pollyann Winslow said target shooting in the Musquash could potentially create an economic issue.
“Anyone looking to put their home on the market is going to lose value if we have an accident,” she said. “People come here for quality of life and the schools. As long as we are able to keep the people safe, people will buy our homes. If we end up with an accident, we’re going to be forced to see the value of our homes decrease.”
Task Force members Dan Watson, Lt. Gordon Joudrey and Dana Coons, who are opposed to an outright ban on target shooting, said there are alternatives that could effectively address reckless shooting in the Musquash.
Coons thinks enforcement of laws related to the reckless use of a firearm could be an effective tool to address concerns, asking why the Town has to wait until someone gets shot when negligent discharge of a firearm is a felony.
“They’re going to lose their firearms and concealed carry license. They’ll have to hire a lawyer and go to court, which will cost a lot of money,” he said. “Even if the Town loses, it will send the message. It won’t be long before the message is out the Town won’t put up with irresponsible and negligent shooters.”
But Police Chief Bill Hart, chairman of the Task Force, said it’s his and Town Prosecutor Kevin Coyle’s opinion that without an ordinance to enforce, it will be difficult for law enforcement to effectively address negligent shooting in the Musquash.
“When we believe we can prosecute to a conviction, then we’ve gone forward,” he said. “The law is dangerous when used to send any message other than a conviction.”
But Hart agreed that Coons, Joudrey and Watson are correct that there may be other options besides an outright ban that the Task Force could recommend to the Council.
Watson said he would like to discuss a free permit for target shooting, which would be obtained at the Police Department, as a possible method of managing activity in the Musquash.
Ann Chiampa of 28 Wedgewood Drive suggested an education component for students at the high school, as many of the target shooters in the Musquash have been described as young, some high school age.
Hart said educational outreach about target shooting could be achieved through the School Resource Officer.
Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz suggested interested residents could form a group to study and locate a safe location that could be designated for target shooting in the Musquash, as the Dog Park Study Committee is working to establish a dog park in town.
“The biggest problem is there are a lot of ideas that weren’t discussed,” Joudrey said.
The Task Force voted unanimously to ask the Town Council for an extension for its report to June 1.
“I don’t think we’re far away from being ready to prepare our reports, but I do think we need to have more discussion,” Hart said. “We need to fully flesh out all ideas, and I know there are some ideas we want to bring forward to vote up or down.”
Hart suggested selecting “captains” for the majority and minority reports to present to the Council.
“I think how this is presented will be critical on both sides,” he said.