River Road residents express concern over safety
By Polly Lynn
Editor’s note: The names of the residents on River Road have been removed by request as some fear retribution.
KILLINGTON — Nearly a dozen residents showed up at the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, April 21 to discuss the significant increase in recreational gun use on River Road. Several residents expressed concerns over the possibility of stray bullets being so close to recreation areas, hiking trails, bikers and the library. Residents told the board that the gunshots were extremely disruptive and scary, and that they lasted for extended periods of time, often in close proximity to residences.
One resident on River Road, said the gunfire was a “big concern to me, because my grandchildren are out chasing lightning bugs and all of a sudden guns are going off like crazy, and I don’t like that, and my grandchildren are terrified of it…. I know we have liberal gun laws in this state but we can’t have guns going off in our neighborhood,” the resident said.
Another River Road resident agreed, saying the gunfire “has become absolutely unbearable and extremely dangerous.” The resident said there have been issues with shooting in the past but it had been somewhat controlled. “Now it’s every day, non-stop for an hour and a half and it sounds like machine gun shooting,” she said. “We are completely for guns. We don’t want to go against the gun laws, and we know we can’t, but we can’t live with this.”
“It’s a dangerous issue,” this resident continued. “It only takes one stray bullet, one child walking, or a biker and that’s it… If this continues on we are moving, we are moving! I’m not staying here, it’s not going to happen because it is scary.”
Another resident who’s lived on River Road for over 50 years, echoed their concerns, saying the past month’s gunfire has been excessive. “That’s the most number of shots I’ve ever heard fired at a given time, it was well in excess of 200 rounds… there seems to be a marked increase I’d say here in the last month. It’s happened periodically in the past but nothing like what it’s been like in the last month.”
Residents asked the town to consider actions to mitigate the disturbance and potential risks.
Killington Chief of Police Whit Montgomery proposed creating a town ordinance that would put limits on firearm discharge areas. Vermont state statute, under Title. 24, § 2291(8), allows towns “To regulate or prohibit the use or discharge, but not possession of, firearms within the municipality or specified portions thereof…” which Montgomery read to the Select Board, Tuesday night.
One resident spoke up and said he was surprised to learn that there were no town, state or federal laws currently on the books regulating gun fire near residences or popular family recreation areas. “I always had the misconception that you couldn’t touch off a firearm within 500 feet of a residence,” he said. “Now that holds true in some other states but not Vermont. In Vermont, each community is on their own to decide what degree of enforcement they’d like to have.”
This resident suggested a 500-foot barrier range from any residence for discharging a firearm. He said that was common protocol in other areas. He also suggested making the ordinance effective throughout the whole town, not just one particular area. “That way when you folks consider this, it will be a one time deal,” he said to the Select Board.
Select Board member Chris Bianchi agreed with establishing a town-wide policy. “I like the idea of a distance from a residence all over town versus designating certain areas,” he said. If we don’t, he added, “We’re just going to funnel them into another area and create a new problem somewhere else in town.”
Montgomery proposed implementing a restricted discharge ordinance for a proximity to certain roads, including those with schools or town recreation facilities. He also suggested proactively managing safe shooting areas for gun owners and noted that he would support a Rod and Gun Club, if done right.
Patty McGrath, Select Board chair, agreed. “It’d be nice to know that where they’re firing is a safe place to be firing,” she said, adding that restrictions on areas near hiking and biking trails might be considered, as well, since that is the direction the town is going.
She added that any successful ordinance would have to take into consideration the needs and rights of the gun owners, too. “We need to find a balance between someone’s right to own a gun and use it, and yet to be considerate of one’s neighbors, because with every right there is an inherent responsibility.”
Montgomery and Town Manager Seth Webb are researching the options available as well as policies in nearby towns. They will present their findings to the board at a future Select Board meeting in May. Cities with dense populations such as Rutland, Burlington, Essex have implemented full bans on firearm discharge within certain city limits. Some towns, like Killington, have no policy. Others have restrictions that strike a balance somewhere in-between.
Montgomery said he is leaning to a restricted discharge ordinance similar to Wallingford’s where a specific area(s) is identified as restricted.
Wallingford’s Ordinance Regarding Firearms §3101 states: “No person shall discharge or fire, or cause to be discharged or fired, any revolver, pistol, rifle, shotgun, air rifle, BB gun, or other similar firearm, weapon, or device within the limits of the Fire District No. I of the Village of Wallingford, within five hundred (500) feet of any dwelling, place of business, or other structure within the Village of East Wallingford, or the Village of South Wallingford, hereinafter referred to as ‘restricted areas,’ except as provided hereunder.”