Shots in the dark

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There are two issues in Tisbury where residents seem to want a say, even though the law says they have little control over what’s happening.

We begin with the proposed gun shop on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. If Rubin Cronig, the shop owner seeking the license, passes his criminal background check and his mental health check, there is little that Tisbury Police Chief Daniel Hanavan can do to block the gun store. And why should he want to? It’s legal and permissible under the law. If Mr. Cronig is to open his shop, he will have passed the scrutiny of both the local police department and federal checks.

That his proposed shop came to light in the wake of one of our country’s deadliest shootings in Las Vegas is an unfortunate coincidence that really has no bearing on his request for a license to sell firearms.

Take a deep breath and reflect on what it is that Mr. Cronig is proposing. It’s not the handguns and semiautomatic weapons that have filled the public comments and emails being sent around. The kind of rhetoric coming from selectman Tristan Israel only serves to ratchet up the uncertainty of Vineyard Haven residents about what types of guns, instead of easing the fears of residents. “Personally, I don’t want to see assault rifles downtown,” he told The Times back when the subject first came up earlier this month.

Do people think there are no guns in private homes in Tisbury? The Island is home to hunters, and there may be people who feel safer with a gun. You can certainly debate whether that’s true, but under the state’s current gun laws, it’s an individual’s prerogative.

Mr. Cronig intends to sell high-end shotguns for skeet shooting or collecting. These are guns in the $20,000 to $100,000 range. We’re not sure what the market is for such weapons, but it’s doubtful someone is going to walk in off the street, purchase a gun for that kind of money that can’t fire nearly as quickly as weapons used in most mass shootings, and head straight for the ferry or elementary school, as one person suggested at last week’s Tisbury selectmen’s meeting.

But in true Tisbury fashion, selectmen are being reactive instead of proactive. The board voted to ask the planning board to look at zoning bylaws to restrict both gun shops and marijuana retail shops in the downtown district.

In the case of the gun shop, they’ve not only waited for the horse to leave the barn, it’s already got a few furlongs on them. Banning gun shops on Main Street will have no impact at all on Mr. Cronig’s proposal.

The other issue where people continue to think they have a say is on plans proposed by Ernie Boch Jr. for a private park on Beach Road. Last week, a petition briefly circulated, asking Mr. Boch to explain why his plans have changed. The impression Mr. Boch left with the town, the petition stated, was that the park would be open and available.

It’s Mr. Boch’s land. He can do with it what he wants within the parameters of the law and town bylaws. A park is permissible in the marine district; the fences and gates he’s proposed are allowed, too. He’s gotten the necessary permits from the conservation commission, and is now accepting bids from contractors to do the work.

You can’t force a private landowner to open his land to the public. You can make suggestions during the public process, but you really don’t have a leg to stand on in making demands of Mr. Boch to open up his park to the public. As he has said on several occasions, why should he assume that kind of liability?

The town might have had an opportunity to negotiate with Mr. Boch in the past, after turning down other proposals he made for the property. But, as is often the case in Tisbury, leaders react rather than engage, and then appear surprised when a proposal doesn’t meet their expectations.

Take another deep breath. Mr. Boch’s proposal isn’t so bad. He’s building a private park, with flower gardens, green spaces, and some hardscapes. You may not be able to go inside to sit on the benches, unless you’re an invited guest, but no one will stop you from enjoying the view. There is a portion of the park, near the water, where boardwalks will allow public access to the beach.

“The reason I’m doing the park is to kick-start the beautification of Beach Road, which has looked the same since the ’60s,” he told The Times recently. “People there could be accused of letting the place rot. I don’t want to do that. I want to make it pretty from the water and from the road. Hopefully, that will inspire other owners.”

He’s doing something to improve the Island’s gateway. Shouldn’t that be applauded instead of vilified?

The selectmen fail the town — in this case over more than a decade — by bringing zero vision and zero resources to the table, and then expect Mr. Boch to make it right. A fenced-in private park is a pretty disappointing outcome, but it’s way better than the town deserves.