NH law may void Brox shooting rule

MILFORD – The town’s new rule banning target shooting on the Brox property would likely face a challenge if a proposed state law passes next year.

In August Milford selectmen, after months of hearings and debate, passed the rule, prompted by police, who said they have no legal basis to ask people to stop shooting when they get complaints at the informal shooting range near the Heron Pond elementary school.

House Bill 1749 was introduced Nov. 20, and it would replace an older law that gives the Legislature authority over everything having to do with firearms in New Hampshire. The new law would clarify the old one and impose fines of up to $5,000 for violations.

Milford selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere called the proposal “off-base” and “an extreme overreaction.”

“I hope senators and House members take a few minutes to think and come to their senses,” he said, because towns can’t have groups opening shooting ranges on town property where there are many recreational uses.

Written with the bill is a section called Legislative Findings, that gives a rationale.

“A growing number of towns and local boards are violating” the law, it says, and names the town of Milford and the Lebanon School Board, “which is attempting to ban firearms in or on school property and at school events that take place on non-school property.”

Fougere also wondered why Milford is singled out, since few if any municipalities in New Hampshire allow target shooting on their lands.

The proposed state law would apparently preempt town or school district rules, because New Hampshire is not a home rule state, which means that without enabling legislation, local municipalities can’t take action in a number of areas, including elderly tax exemptions and the use of firearms.

Milford selectmen began talking about a possible ban on target shooting in February when Milford Police Chief Michael Viola and Capt. Craig Frye asked them for an ordinance. Town attorney William Drescher reviewed state laws related to municipalities’ ability to control gun use, and told the board he believes the town can control what goes on its property, as any landowner can, and it also “has a right to control what is inherently dangerous.”

The Milford Gun Club opposed the rule and offered a plan for safe shooting at Brox. In August, it passed 3-2, with Mike Putnam and state Sen. Gary Daniels dissenting. It applies to the 270-acre southern section of the Brox property, known as community lands.

The bill is considered partisan and its sponsors are 10 Republicans legislators, none from local House districts.

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