RICHMOND — The issue of gunfire noise from a private property has been resolved with a minimum of fuss — and some help from the police.
At the July 7 Town Council meeting, neighbors of a property at 29 Small Pond Road owned by Michael Fox said the loud and prolonged gunfire coming from a shooting range on Fox’s property was adversely affecting their quality of life. Fox’s neighbors told the council of semi-automatic gunfire lasting up to four hours, an allegation confirmed by Richmond police officers called to the property. One resident brought a recording of the gunfire to the meeting.
Council members discussed the possibility of passing an ordinance, but agreed to first try to make Fox aware of the neighbors’ complaints by sending him a recording of their statements at the council meeting. A week later, at a special council meeting to resolve the gunfire controversy, Fox said he wished he had heard sooner from his neighbors.
“I want to apologize that this had got this far,” he said. “This should have been handled way differently, between neighbors. The only neighbors, actually, who ever approached me were very in favor of what I had been doing, and if someone had just reached out to me, I just want it on record, you know, I’m a very reasonable and responsible person and this should have just ended there. The fact that the Town Council is involved just doesn’t speak well throughout this town. We’re a rural town, and it should stay that way and people should be able to work with each other.”
The special council meeting lasted less than 10 minutes. Fox agreed to stop using the shooting range on his property after Police Chief Elwood Johnson visited him earlier the day of the meeting. Walking through Fox’s wooded property, Johnson calculated the distance from the shooting range and the closest neighbor’s house at 25 Small Pond Road and determined it was less than 500 feet.
State law prohibits the discharge of a firearm while hunting within 500 feet of an occupied residence, stable or barn without permission from the owner of tenant of the home, but Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth explained there is no law that specifically pertains to discharging a firearm for other reasons.
“There is no state law or town ordinance that establishes a similar minimum distance for firing a gun for purpose other than hunting,” she noted. “The police department uses the 500 feet as a general safety guideline, but the police department does not charge anyone with violating that general safety guideline, because they can’t. You can’t criminally charge someone with violating an informal guideline.”
Johnson said that when he informed Fox that the distance was less than what is considered safe, Fox agreed to stop using his shooting range.
Town Council president Richard Nassaney, who is also a gun enthusiast, assisted in the resolution of the issue.
“I helped Mr. Fox understand the severity of the situation, his being in close proximity to other people’s homes,” he said. “It was in the best interest of everybody that he cease shooting on his property and he conceded and agreed to it. So, the best possible outcome for the neighbors and Mr. Fox understands the right thing to do, which was greatly appreciated from the town’s perspective.”
Ellsworth said that the discussions with Fox had produced a solution that was more satisfactory than any measures that might have resulted from legal action.
“Charging Mr. Fox with violating a state law or a town ordinance would not necessarily have resulted in the elimination of his shooting range,” she said. “There would have been a substantial number of legal obstacles for the town to overcome and the case could have taken years to work its way through the court system.”
Johnson praised the conduct of all those involved in finding a resolution to the dispute.
“I can’t say enough about how nice it was to have people want to accommodate each other as neighbors,” he said. “I’ll walk in the woods every day if it means not having to change laws and ordinances to try to resolve a conflict.”