On June 16, 2021

Mendon drops gunfire safety proposal

By Brett Yates

After a months long effort, the Mendon Select Board has abandoned its proposal to restrict gunfire within town limits.

“I’m going to say no. I don’t think it’ll work,” Selectwoman Valorie Taylor concluded at the board’s last meeting, Monday, June 14.

Negative public opinion appeared to play a major role in the board’s decision to drop the proposed ordinance. 

“If there’s a petition and 5% of the voters sign the petition, it is mandated that it go to a vote, which I believe would happen, and based on the public comment, my guess is that it would get defeated,” Chair Richard Wilcox observed.

In response to complaints of unsafe target shooting on Terra Lane, the board united in January in a determination to adopt a firearm discharge ordinance, which, with exemptions for hunting and other protected activities, would have imposed fines for shooting in proximity to roads, trails, and homes. Draft legislation underwent legal review in February and a public hearing in March, but research into similar ordinances in other Vermont towns cast doubt on its enforceability.

After discussions with law enforcement, the board learned that neither the state police nor the Rutland County Sheriff’s Office nor the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s game wardens typically respond to violations of municipal gunfire ordinances. Instead, the burden would fall on Mendon’s lone constable.

In the spring, Selectman Larry Courcelle advocated for a rewrite of the ordinance to shrink its application to only certain Mendon neighborhoods. The question of which ones would fall within its purview presented a challenge, and in May the board agreed to convene a committee of Mendon residents to offer recommendations.

At the meeting on June 14, the committee members were “ready to go, if that’s in fact what we want to do,” as Wilcox put it. But Courcelle expressed hesitation about asking volunteers to take on the work without feeling certain that he could support the end result of their process.

“We as a select board need to know that if we move forward with a committee and they come out with some kind of an ordinance or not, and — it being advisory — we don’t take their opinion but go our own way, we’ll never get another committee to form like that again,” he advised.

Constable Phil Douglas, who first suggested a gunfire ordinance to the board in 2015 and played a significant part in this year’s effort, also changed his mind about the proposal. “After going through all the process of our investigation and our discussion with residents and everything, I guess I’m leaning toward no ordinance at all,” he admitted.

“I think we’re going to drop the committee, and we will withdraw from this at this point,” Wilcox summarized.

Taylor praised her colleagues, whose work on the gunfire issue had preceded her own election in March. “Thank you for everyone’s time that you’ve put into the research, all the phone calls. It was a lot of work you put in,” she said.

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