Ordinance would put limits on gun use in Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — An ordinance that would prohibit private backyard shooting ranges is poised to be adopted by the Representative Town Meeting.
The ordinance wouldn’t preclude hunters, or residents from defending themselves or others from physical harm. It is similar to ordinances in surrounding towns like Westport and Norwalk, though in some cases it is less restrictive than other municipalities, sponsor Nancy Lefkowitz, D-1, said.
It will, she told the RTM recently, “allow the police department to have additional authority over an issue that is of increasing concern to Fairfield residents: namely, non-hunting and non-crime related gunfire.”
The ordinance makes it unlawful to discharge any firearms on public or private property. There are exceptions for police officers, members of the armed services, licensed security personnel, as well as someone defending themselves or a third-party from physical harm, or anyone responding to a wildlife threat to human safety. Any shooting range must be authorized in writing by the police chief, and anyone allowing hunters to use their property must provide annual written notice to all abutting property owners. It carries a $250 fine for each offense
The ordinance not only has bipartisan sponsorship but bipartisan support, as well as the endorsement of Police Chief Gary MacNamara. A vote on the ordinance will take place at the RTM meeting at the end of this month.
“Many years ago, we found ourselves in the position where an indiviudal who put up a firearms range in his yard,” MacNamara said. While the property had the needed room for a shooting range, “we found ourselves without any regulatory ability.”
He said that situation has been resolved “but that’s not to say the problem won’t come up again.”
MacNamara said the department often finds itself responding to reports of gunfire that often turns out to be hunters. “If there’s dialogue between neighbors that they’re allowing hunting on their property, maybe that would eliminate some phone calls,” he said. He said the department didn’t do a good enough job communicating with neighbors when they last used the outdoor range.
Cambridge Street resident Alex Plitsas, a combat veteran, voiced support of the ordinance and had a suggestion for improving communication.
He said often it might be a resident walking by a property hearing the gunshots of hunters, but since they don’t lie next door, they wouldn’t have been notified. “A possible consideration would be to place signs on the edge of the property that hunting is taking place,” Plitsas said.
Yvonne Zeisler lives on Hoydens Lane, close to the police shooting range, and said in the last two years she have been always been notified when it was being used.
But there are other times, she said, when she’s been woken from sleep by the sound of gunfire.
“It is really scary,” she said, and agreed with Plitsas’ suggestion for signs notifying when a property is being used by hunters. “I know people have permits to hunt, it would be great to have signs out.”
“Currently, there is nothing in our town code regulating the discharge of firearms,” Lefkowitz said. “Courts in Connecticut have ruled that statutes implicitly preempt municipalities from passing ordinances regulating firearm sales and hunting, but municipalities are allowed to pass ordinances to protect the public health, safety and welfare of their citizens. And as such, several towns as stated previously have ordinances concerning various other aspects of firearm use, such as discharge of a firearm, firearm use in residential areas and regulations on range safety, gunfire noise and target practices.”