Gun discharge bylaw sparks debate ahead of Town Meeting
By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The Board of Selectmen and Police Chief Mark Leahy sought to ease concerns about what could potentially be a controversial Town Meeting warrant article that would limit how close to an occupied building a firearm can be discharged.
Article 58 on the warrant for the April 28 Town Meeting, submitted by Leahy, would make it illegal to discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a residence or occupied dwelling without written permission of the property owner.
Several gun-rights groups and recreational shooting organizations, including the Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), whose local branch is based in Northborough, and Northeast Shooters recently posted alerts about the bylaw proposal to their websites.
GOAL wrote that the bylaw appears to be a “back door” attempt to shut down a private shooting range on West Street that officials ordered shuttered in 2007, after a new home was built on nearby Settlers Road. The home is within 500 feet of the range, which has been operating since 1995, according to court records.
Last year, the owner of the range won a judgment from Massachusetts Superior Court against the town that cleared the way for it to continue to operate under existing regulations.
“Should they be able to pass this into law and shut the range down it would create a very slippery slope for ranges,” GOAL wrote in its alert. “It would also create opportunity for anti-gun towns/selectmen who wish to emulate the actions being taken in Northborough.”
At its March 24 meeting, as selectmen closed the warrant for Town Meeting, Leahy sought to address what he called “misinformation” about the article.
“There has been an unfortunate representation made that this would ban hunting. That is not true,” he said after reading the text of the article. “A representation has been made that this would ban the discharge of firearms. You’ve heard the language. That's not true.”
Asked what the impetus for the proposal was, Leahy deferred discussion to Town Meeting floor next month.
Selectman Jeff Amberson, who described himself as an avid hunter, said the bylaw seeks to extend state law, which prohibits hunting within 500 feet of a residence, to include all instances of firing a weapon.
“I can say with a pretty clear conscience that if I thought this would have any negative impact on hunting in the town of Northborough, I would not support it,’ he said.”If anybody tells you this will eliminate hunting, they’re wrong. I don’t know how much clearer we can be.”
Police and others carrying out their official duty and anyone acting illegally in self-defense are exempted from the provisions of the proposed bylaw.
The full language of the article reads:
“Within the town of Northborough, no person shall, except in the performance of a legal duty or in the lawful defense of a person or property, discharge any firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling or other occupied structure, unless granted written permission by the owner of the land on which the dwelling or structure is located.”
Northborough will be holding its Annual Town Meeting Monday, April 28, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Algonquin Regional High School auditorium, 79 Bartlett St.
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