By Brett Yates
Gun owners in Mendon may soon face new rules regarding when and where they can fire their weapons within town limits. On Feb. 8, the Mendon Selectboard agreed that it would adopt a firearm discharge ordinance following an attorney’s review of legislation drafted by Constable Phil Douglas and a public hearing.
Reacting to complaints about dangerous target shooting, Douglas first presented the idea in 2015 to the Select Board, which tabled the proposal at the time. More recent incidents – and, in particular, a dispute between homeowners on Terra Lane – have brought the issue of gun safety back to the board’s attention.
“We’re getting automatic fire next door, and we’re getting shotgun fire next door, and we’re getting pistol shooting next door, at all hours, night and day,” one Mendon resident testified.
Another resident complained of a target that a neighbor had set up “about 75 feet from my bedroom wall.”
The members of the Select Board described a process of reviewing gunfire ordinances adopted by other towns – such as Essex, Hinesburg, Shelburne, and Proctor – in order to devise a measure that would protect public safety without burdening local hunters or other responsible firearm users. The precise language of Mendon’s future ordinance remains unsettled thus far, but Selectman Geoff Wells believes that the rules adopted by Killington in 2015 will serve as the primary model.
For now, it appears that Mendon will prohibit gunfire within 500 feet of any road or habitable building, unless the shooter has the permission of the building’s owner. It will also prohibit all gunfire starting half an hour after dusk until a half hour before sunrise, with fines up to $800. The ordinance will not apply on state-owned land, such as the 918-acre Aitken State Forest.
The board hopes to adopt the ordinance as soon as possible and is on the lookout for a local attorney who could make any revisions necessary to ensure that it would hold up against a challenge in court. Otherwise, the board will have to submit its draft to the nonprofit Vermont League of Cities & Towns, whose legal review may take some time.
Once adopted, the ordinance will take effect after 60 days, unless (within 44 days) a resident files a petition bearing signatures of 5% of the town’s voters, in which case it’ll go to a townwide vote.
“I hate to say it, but we will have opposition to this. That’s just the way it is,” Selectman Larry Courcelle predicted.
Vermont state law, which doesn’t restrict hunting or target shooting within residential areas, allows municipalities to regulate the discharge (but not the possession) of firearms through local ordinances.