Police officials target Morehouse gun-firing complaints
Updated 6:18 am, Friday, March 16, 2012
Police are asking town officials to enact an ordinance that restricts residents from firing weapons on their properties, after receiving 70 complaints about a Morehouse Lane man shooting guns on his property on a regular basis over the past several months.
"An individual has, on a consistent and regular basis, basically established a private shooting range on his property. We have received numerous complaints," Police Chief Gary MacNamara told the Police Commission on Wednesday. The neighbors' complaints center on safety and noise concerns, he said.
"We looked at different options to resolve that issue and found the town of Fairfield really has no regulation in place to address that particular issue," MacNamara said. "It's just to address our ability to regulate individuals who look to set up a firing range on their property."
MacNamara said an investigation into the Morehouse Lane situation is continuing, although police have been able to bring a halt to the weapon firing on the man's 2.3-acre property. MacNamara said the man, who was not identified during the meeting, would "in all likelihood" face criminal charges if he continued. "That activity, at that particular location, is dangerous, and if it occurs again, that individual will face criminal charges," he said.
In a memo to the Police Commission, Deputy Police Chief Christopher Lyddy said the shooting on Morehouse Lane has taken place as early as 6:50 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m. Lyddy says in the memo that the shooting has occurred several times a week and, at times, lasted as long as two hours. "Lately, residents feel that the shooter will `run outside and fire shots when he sees a person walking in the neighborhood,' " the March 7 memo states.
"Several reports of shooting occurred while children were being let on or off the school bus ... In sworn affidavits, several residents have indicated they no longer feel safe and are not able to enjoy their properties when shots are fired," Lyddy said in the memo.
"Several report not allowing their children to be outside or ride their bikes to the end of the cul-de-sac. At least one parent indicated that other parents will not allow their children to come to their Queens Grant Road home specifically because of the gun fire. Many also have complained that the noise generated by the gunfire is offensive and alarming."
Lyddy says in the memo the burden of proof for charges of reckless endangerment or unlawful discharge of a firearm is significant and officers dispatched to the scene hadn't been able to develop probable cause for an arrest.
MacNamara, though, said Wednesday that the investigation is ongoing.
MacNamara said other towns regulate the firing of weapons on private property -- those towns are identified in Lyddy's memo as Darien, Newtown, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Manchester -- and he believes such an ordinance is needed in Fairfield.
"An ordinance would certainly give us the ability to stop that type of activity immediately, if an ordinance is passed," the chief said.
The Police Commission doesn't have the power to enact ordinances -- that is the jurisdiction of the Representative Town Meeting -- but MacNamara would like the commission to endorse the concept of such an ordinance in Fairfield.
According to a rough draft of the proposed ordinance reviewed by the commission Wednesday, it would be unlawful for anyone in the town of Fairfield to discharge a gun, pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, cannon "or other such weapon or firearm" unless:
The person is a peace officer acting in the performance of his or her duties; a member of the U.S. or state armed forces; or an authorized messenger or bank guard acting in the performance of his or her duties.
The person is protecting life or property.
The police chief gave written authorization for rifle, revolver, pistol, trap and skeet ranges.
The person is legally authorized to hunt, with the proviso that hunting is prohibited in or on any public beach, park or other land owned or leased by the town.
Pellet guns and B.B. guns wouldn't be covered in the proposed ordinance, and penalties for violating it would be determined by the RTM, MacNamara said.
Police Commission member Arthur Hersh said he believes firing a weapon on the Morehouse Lane property is "a danger to the community in that area" and could be considered harassment as well.
Commission member Donald Kleber said distances that a bullet will travel if not impeded were "quite telling about the danger this type of activity presents to the community." Those distances, depending on the weapon, range from a half-mile to a mile on the low end to five miles on the high end, according to a chart that was given to the commission.
Police Lt. James Perez said a bullet from a handgun travels 1,100 feet a second, while a bullet from a rifle or long gun, which the Morehouse Lane man allegedly had used, travels 3,500 feet a second.
Perez said the Police Department's firing range in the Hoyden's Hill section of town was designed to prevent bullets from going off the range.
Kleber, a retired FBI special agent, agreed. "You take incredible amounts of care to backstop the rounds and ensure a round, when fired, ends up in a berm or backstop target," he said.
The commission voted unanimously to endorse the concept of an ordinance that restricts the firing of weapons on private property.
"I would like to support it as a concept and not this particular ordinance in front of us," said commission member Norma Peterson. "We can certainly make a decision to support this in concept ... I would just like to leave the details to the RTM."
Kleber noted that language in the rough draft of the proposed ordinance would not prohibit a range from being established, but required the chief of police to sign off on it.
"I think it gives the town leeway to allow these types of activities without being overly restrictive," he said.
David Becker, the RTM's majority leader, said a proposed ordinance needs at least two sponsors from the RTM and could be voted on in June.
The RTM meets monthly and a proposed ordinance can't be voted on at the meeting in which it is introduced.
The agenda for the RTM's March meeting already has been set, Becker said.
Andrew Brophy is a freelance writer.