Neighbors of the Musquash Conservation Area gave disturbing testimony at a Town Council workshop on target shooting occurring in close proximity to their homes and on trails frequented by outdoor enthusiasts.
Council members considered public input at an Oct. 7 public meeting regarding outlawing target shooting in the Musquash or town wide.
“I take a walk around my house every morning to make sure I don’t see any bullet holes in my home,” said Randall Mcintyre of Red Fern Circle, an abutter to the Musquash who said the target shooting is often so close to his home he is fearful to let his kids play in the backyard. “These people are right behind my house.”
The self-described outdoor enthusiast said he hasn’t enjoyed the trails in the Musquash in two years for fear of his own safety and that of his children and dog. He noted the target shooting has become a noticeable problem in the last three years.
Target shooting is legal in the Musquash, 1,000 acres of town-owned land used by all types of recreationists and hunters; therefore, there’s not much the Police Department can do when calls come in regarding target shooting in the area, Police Chief Bill Hart explained at the meeting.
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 that gunshots were heard 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.
Hart additionally noted there haven’t been any gun-related accidents due to shooting in the Musquash over a 30-year period.
“Guns are fundamentally unsafe, so people need to learn to use them safety,” Hart said. “Maybe the Council can take steps to create a shooting range.”
Hart said the Council must consider how much money the town is willing to spend to address the issue.
Anothony Ramy of Faucher Road and Pollyann Winslow of Hearthstone Drive argued the Town cannot afford not to address the issue.
Ramy said he spoke with an attorney about whether the town can be held liable if something happened as a result of target shooting when it had a chance to act and chose not to.
He said the attorney couldn’t say whether or not the case could be made, but that it would likely be brought against the Town.
“That’s not a veiled threat, it’s just something I learned,” Ramy said.
Winslow said people move to Londonderry for its safe neighborhoods and target shooting in the Musqaush has an economic impact on the community.
“I would be absolutely appalled for all the efforts that went into creating the trails, only to know that someone who used one was accidently shot,” she said. “We’re not talking about the 1 to 2 percent who are acting inappropriately, we’re talking about the huge percentage of people who no longer go to the Musquash because they don’t feel it’s safe, which is part of what drew them to Londonderry. We need to think of who’s being left out of this and what effect it has on the community. We need to think about the value of homes if we get bad press about someone being shot. I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about people’s well-being, but this does have an economic impact.”
“No recreation area in town should be monopolized by one group,” agreed Sandra Lagueux of Fiddlers Ridge Road. “If there is a multi-use facility, no one group should be driving others out, and this is what’s happening. It’s inappropriate to take town land and allow something to go on that drives people away because it makes them feel their personal safety is at risk. And are we really going to wait for something bad to happen and then say, ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe we didn’t do something?’”
Representing the Conservation Commission, member Michael Considine gave the Council a presentation detailing his own observations of target shooting in the Musquash and concluded that the practice has become a significant threat to the safety of recreationists trying to enjoy the trails there and to abutters to the property.
“There are literally bullets flying up and down and across fields. Bullets are also leaving the Musquash and flying towards neighborhoods,” he said, noting the Conservation Commission is familiar with New Hampshire Fish and Game’s deer management plan and supports hunting in the Musquash.
“We would like to find a safe place for target shooting within the Musquash, but we haven’t been able to do it to this point. The issue is not hunting or gun control, it’s strictly target shooting within the Musquash.”
“I agree with Mike and the Conservation Commission. There’s no way about it, it’s not safe,” said Al Sypek of Constitution Drive, a certified firearms instructor who conducts training on safely discharging firearms at shooting ranges. “The issue of building a shooting range is for you gentleman to discuss, but we definitely need to ban target shooting in the Musquash.”
Kevin Dwyer of Wiley Hill Road said he doesn’t see why the Town can’t ban target shooting without building a target shooting range.
“We banned riding dirt bikes in the Musquash because going 30- to 40-miles-per-hour probably doesn’t mix when people are walking on the trails, and the Town didn’t have to build a park for dirt bikers who were displaced,” he said.
Dwyer additionally noted the Police Department hasn’t incurred any additional expenses from people dirt biking on the trails illegally since the ordinance was put in place, which Hart confirmed.
Hart recommended banning target shooting throughout the town because the problem would likely just move to a different conservation area if it were only restricted in the Musquash.
And Londonderry wouldn’t be the first community in Southern New Hampshire to impose such a ban. Pembroke, Bow, Merrimack, Pelham, and Exeter have all enacted ordinances that preclude shooting guns on conservation land except in the case of hunting, which is why Considine thinks shooting in the Musquash has increased so significantly and become a problem in the last three years.
“I propose we take a similar approach and enact a town ordinance making it unlawful to discharge firearms within the Musquash, except when hunting; then, work with target shooters to identify a location for a shooting range for target shooters,” he said, adding enforcement thereon would be relatively easy and would not require additional staff or equipment, and the Conservation Commission would post signs at Musquash trailheads detailing the new ordinance.
Hart said after spreading word of and educating the public on the new ordinance, there would likely be minimal enforcement, which is what other communities that banned target shooting have seen.
“We need to be thoughtful, define our mission in a limited way, and then plan out the resources needed to enforce what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Roger Fillio of Hampshire Lane, a shooter and instructor, said if the Town does decide to ban target shooting in the Musquash, it must provide some sort of area for people to shoot.
“If you’re going to allow hunting, but no place for people to practice with their weapons, you’re putting people out there who are ill-prepared to shoot in an area,” he said, noting the cost of building a shooting range would likely be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Fillio also said it’s unlikely an entrepreneur will come in and build the range.
“No one is going to try to spend $200,000 to $300,000 to build a range for a few recreational shooters. But saying there are just a few, we shouldn’t eliminate any place for them to go,” he said.
Hart said it would be easy to enforce a designated range for target shooting, adding that perhaps the Conservation Commission could assist with building a shooting range using money available to it.
Moving forward, Council Chairman Tom Dolan said the Council will confer with legal counsel in an effort to create a law that is robust and enforceable. That legislation would then be considered in a public hearing where the public would have the opportunity to weigh in.
“I think it would be reasonable to say we could move through this issue in the next three months,” he said.
Residents are encouraged to email the Council with any questions, concerns, or recommendations on the issue of banning target shooting in the Musquash.
Councilors Joe Green and Jim Butler expressed their personal commitment to seeing that target shooting in the Musquash is banned.
“I’m not going to waiver on my decision that I think it’s a safety issue and we should prohibit target shooting in the Musquash,” Butler said.
Green, who recently went to visit the Musquash, said he was “absolutely terrified” by what he saw and witnessed, including bullets in very close proximity to abutters’ homes and damage to trees.
“I have said publicly in the past I would never send my kids into the Musquash,” he said. “When I came back from my trip there I wanted to take action immediately. I went to the Town Manager and said this is a disaster waiting to happen and my hair was on fire.”
Green said he was advised to give the process of addressing the issue its due diligence to ensure “no stone is unturned.”
“In my heart and soul I am very concerned with someone getting hurt out there and I personally will do whatever I can to prevent that from happening as one council member,” he said.