Guns near school concern police; Issue of proximity to Heron Pond raised

MILFORD – Police would like to forbid target shooting at the Brox property, near Heron Pond Elementary School, but selectmen aren’t ready to decide.

Police Chief Michael Viola and Capt. Craig Frye were at the board’s Jan. 30 meeting to ask for an ordinance to prohibit shooting at the open pit on the town-owned land, saying they get complaints every year, including from the elementary school during school hours.

“It’s an ongoing issue … and it’s hard on our officers” because there is no ordinance, Viola said. Most shooters comply when asked to stop, “but it’s a gray area” because police don’t know how to respond when someone asks if shooting is allowed there.

“We think it should be stopped,” Viola told selectmen, and he said the state Fish and Game officer who patrols the area thinks so, too.

People ride mountain bikes and hike nearby, and sports fields have been created, he said, so it’s a safety issue.

Frye said all of the shooters seem to be from out of town, and that people coming from the Perry Road side of Brox might not even be aware a school is nearby. Last year, he said, a man from out of town shot himself in the foot while target shooting at Brox.

“Should we allow people to shoot there or not?” Viola asked.

Selectmen Gary Daniels and Michael Putnam said they didn’t like the idea of taking away another right from people. And Daniels said he isn’t sure a town can pass an ordinance, since the state has authority over all matters pertaining to firearms.

But, Selectman Kevin Federico said, that “doesn’t necessarily say you can come into my living room and fire your gun. We can still define what is and isn’t safe.

“It’s not like we are saying you can’t hunt there. We are asking people not to bring TVs and sofas and shoot them up and leave them there. … We should be able to create an ordinance regarding what goes on in that property, regardless of what the state law says.”

When Daniels asked about the private range where police go for target shooting, Viola said it’s built for safety and has a range instructor, a safety instructor, safety procedures that have to be obeyed and it’s built so that no one downrange can get hurt.

But Daniels wasn’t convinced.

“I get very concerned we continue to take away rights of people” because of fear, he said.

Viola said he has researched how other towns have dealt with the issue. He said Merrimack and Londonderry limit firearm use on town property to deer and turkey hunting seasons and only for those who have hunting licenses. Mont Vernon’s Conservation Commission is in charge of town-owned land, he said, and its rules don’t permit target shooting outside lawful hunting areas.

Board Chairman Mark Fougere asked Viola to find out from town attorney William Drescher whether selectmen have the authority to prohibit target shooting on its land.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.