CHESTER— Gun enthusiasts packed the Chester Meeting House Tuesday to express opposition to a requested municipal ordinance that would prohibit target shooting and discharge of a firearm in residential neighborhoods.
But a smaller group of residents expressed support for an ordinance, or some other restrictions, that would regulate the shooting that is frequently occurring on a nine-acre Wig Hill Road parcel that is owned by a Deep River resident. More than 150 residents, including some non-residents, turned out for a public information meeting that was called by the board of selectmen in response to a petition submitted in August by more than a dozen residents living near the Wig Hill Road property. The board of selectmen has taken no position on the requested ordinance.
The undeveloped parcel, owned by Deep River resident Warren Elliot, contains a fixed trap target shoot area that neighbors contend is a heavily used rifle range. John Ratchford, whose 85 Wig Hill Road property abuts the Elliot parcel, said an ordinance would enhance public safety by clarifying what type of shooting is allowed in a residential neighborhood. His wife, Sally, said the frequent sound of gunfire from large rifles has driven her indoors on sunny days. Marzena Adams said she is concerned for the safety of visitors and children in the neighborhood, noting “it only takes one bullet.” Cynthia Monahan said she is “all for guns but I’m not for shooting in may back yard.”
Other residents, including many gun owners and some who shoot on the Elliott property, said any town ordinance would be unnecessary and could not be tailored to the topographical conditions of Chester. Some said target shooting should be expected in a rural town like Chester, and one resident compared the request for a shooting ordinance to a controversial 2012 request from one resident for a zoning regulation to prohibit hens and roosters in residential areas.
Jason LaMark, of 62-1 Wig Hill Road, said a small hill separates the shooting area from any nearby homes that he contends are nearly 500 feet away. LaMark said existing state laws already prohibit reckless discharge of a firearms, and noted conditions on the Eilliot property have been monitored by police. He added that no rural towns in Connecticut have a local shooting ordinance.
First Selectman Edmund Meehan, who has also inspected the Elliot property, said he believes the shooting “is being conducted in a safe way,” based on differences in elevation and distance to nearby homes. Meehan said the board would discuss the shooting issue further at a future meeting, while also noting that any possible ordinance would require approval from voters at a town meeting.
Based on the volume of applause for speakers on both side of the issue at Tuesday’s meeting, a shooting ordinance would be unlikely to win voter approval at a town meeting. But resident Joe Cohen, speaking at a selectmen’s meeting that followed the public information meeting, said the shooting activity on Wig Hill Road is a land use issue. Cohen said selectmen should have investigated regulating the activity through that avenue before calling an information meeting on an ordinance.