Target shooting shatters silence for upset Easton neighbors

Target shooting is treated differently in Connecticut than hunting, and isn’t regulated by state law.

Target shooting is treated differently in Connecticut than hunting, and isn’t regulated by state law.

For one Easton resident, a nearby resident’s target shooting has become more than an occasional nuisance.

When the neighbor discharges guns on his property, it impacts the ability of the resident’s family to enjoy their yard and home, and imperils their animals, the resident said.

“The Second Amendment doesn’t say anything about target shooting,” the resident said. “Sometimes they are shooting and shooting for hours, so you can’t be outside in your own yard. Why does he have a right to ruin my life?”

The upset resident — who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue — keeps some farm animals on the property. When target shooting takes place nearby, the resident said, the animals often get scared.

“They congregate in corners,” the resident said. “They freak out. We try to calm them down.”

Visitors often are surprised to learn it’s legal in Easton for a neighbor to shoot a gun so close to someone else’s property, raising concerns about safety and noise, according to the resident.

The resident thinks the town should prohibit anyone from discharging a firearm within 500 feet of someone else’s home or other structure. To this resident, that would protect people’s quality of life and represent a common-sense approach.

Easton has no local target shooting ordinance. A few rural-suburban towns in the area do, but some others do not.

Target shooting is treated differently in Connecticut than hunting, and isn’t regulated by state law.

“We regulate use of guns when it comes to hunting,” Dennis Shain, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman, said concerning the state’s role.

“When it comes to firing off guns in a yard, on private property, that’s a local public safety or zoning issue,” Shain continued. “It’s nothing we enforce or get involved in. That’s a local matter.”

To the upset Easton resident, that doesn’t make sense. “It should be a common rule if it’s a state law,” the resident said.

The resident said many people mistakenly believe the state’s 500-foot hunting rule covers target shooting. “It seems  like common sense to me that no one would want someone shooting within 500 feet of their home,” the resident said.

According to an email sent to the concerned resident by First Selectman Adam Dunsby, an effort was made to pass such an ordinance in Easton a few years ago — the proposal had other, broader gun-related implications as well — but was overwhelmingly defeated.

Safe backdrop

Easton Police Capt. Rich Doyle said Easton has no local ordinance covering target shooting or noise levels.

“The only requirement is there has to be a safe backstop,” so the bullets will stop and can’t impact anyone in the vicinity, Doyle said. An adequate backstop might be a sand pile or the side of a hill, depending on the specifics.

Doyle said Easton police do occasionally receive complaints about gunshots and will dispatch an officer to look into the matter. “We do get calls once in awhile and we do go out,” Doyle said.

Sometimes a complainant can be “very upset” about the situation, Doyle said.

He said the department also asks regular target shooters to let the police department know when they will be shooting so police are prepared for any complaints that come in.

When asked how the police handle target shooting taking place close to a neighbor’s property, Doyle said they would definitely visit the site to “make sure it’s safe,” and talk to the person who is shooting.

Doyle said people are allowed to use any legal weapon when target shooting, with no limits on the weapon’s size or capacity. “There’s very minimal amount of regulation” on target shooting, he said.

The only way to restrict target shooting is to pass a local ordinance, Doyle said. In Easton that would have to be done through a town meeting, initiated either by a resident collecting a certain number of signatures or at the request of the Board of Selectmen.

Other towns

One town with an ordinance that regulates target shooting is Newtown. The local ordinance has distance (500 feet), directional and backstop requirements and establishes allowable times.

People are required to inform the Newtown Police Department 15 minutes in advance of when they plan to target shoot. Shooting also is banned within a half-mile of a school during school hours.

“That sort of helps mediate any problems,” Newtown Police Lt. David Kullgren said.

Kullgren said an ordinance existed before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 that led to the death of 20 students and six adult educators, but was updated after that tragic incident.

Most target shooters are aware of the local rules and few complaints are received from worried neighbors in Newtown, Kullgren said.

Weston has a stronger local ordinance, which Weston Police Sgt. Patrick Daubert said was updated a few years ago to be more restrictive.

The revised local law, approved in 2013, prohibits target shooting in Weston, with the exception of skeet shooting at certain locations. It also bans the use of all assault weapons and machine guns in town.

The proposed changes generated some controversy, with sportsmen’s groups becoming involved, Daubert said. “We used to have a pretty liberal procedure,” he said.

“There are a lot of guns in Weston, as I’m sure there are in Easton, and people want the right to use them,” Daubert said.

Gunshot complaints are infrequent in Weston but do increase around hunting season, he said. “People are pretty respectful of others,” Daubert said.

Redding has no specific target shooting or noise ordinance, but Redding Police Chief Doug Fuchs said the department tries to enforce a 500-foot rule similar to the state hunting statute and requires a safe backdrop and “safe direction” for shooting.

Fuchs said officers are dispatched to deal with complaints and inquiries. “Sometimes people will come in and ask us to OK shooting in their area,” he said, explaining officers will work with property owners to make sure no one would be endangered.

‘Ultimately responsible’

Monroe also has no target shooting ordinance, but checks to see if there’s a suitable backdrop and enough property to ensure the safety of others, such as neighbors and people driving or walking in the vicinity.

Monroe Police Capt. Keith White said officers will check the impact on neighbors, the direction of shooting, and the area’s general landscape.

“We tell people they’re ultimately responsible for what happens,” White said.

Despite the lack of a local ordinance, he said, Monroe police make sure the situation is as safe as possible. “If they are obviously endangering anyone, we’ll never let it happen,” White said.

In Fairfield, there’s also no local ordinance. About five years ago, residents of a more rural neighborhood in that town began complaining when an individual set up a range and was shooting every day, Fairfield Police Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy said.

An effort began to put together a local target shooting law, but then the problem was resolved and the issue faded away without a new ordinance being enacted, Lyddy said.

He’s unaware of any complaints being received during the past two years in Fairfield, outside of those involving duck hunting near the shoreline, he said.

“We don’t have much shooting here on private property,” Lyddy said.

Back in Easton, the upset resident noted their family initially moved to Easton for peace and quiet, and to have farm animals, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

The resident remembers an incident when a group of children were visiting. and the neighbor began target shooting. “The kids ran for cover” and then soon left, and the shooting continued for two hours, the resident said.

“I’m so stressed, wondering if he’s going to shoot today,” the resident said.

 

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