Edgartown planning board disarms shooting-range debate

Edgartown Police Sergeant Joel DeRoche explained Massachusetts law governing private gun ranges. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Edgartown planning board decided to take no action on regulating private shooting ranges following a public hearing Tuesday night. Letters were read and opinions were heard, but most attendees agreed that any effort to impose controls beyond existing state laws would exceed the board’s purview, and was not desired by residents.

The topic arose after a dispute between two neighbors on Chappaquiddick, one of whom built his own shooting range, led to the inclusion on the annual town meeting warrant of a bylaw to govern private shooting ranges. Uncertainty over the language of the article and its genesis led to its removal and referral to the planning board.

Fred Mascolo, planning board member, simplified the issue for the meeting. “We have two neighbors on Chappaquiddick who didn’t get along,” he said, referring to one neighbor who “decided to put a pool in and rent his house out,” and another who “found a glitch in the system that said anybody anywhere could have a gun range in Edgartown,” and who built a gun range in his yard “to irritate the neighbors who are renting the house.”

Planning board assistant Georgiana Greenough said that out of the roughly 50 letters and emails sent to the board about the issue, 45 of them were from members of the Rod and Gun Club and/or Gun Owners Action League. Ms. Greenough said she purposefully notified these bodies so that they would weigh in on the discussion.

Of the nine letters Ms. Greenough read, only two supported increased regulations.

Kevin Donovan of Edgartown wrote that he lived next to the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club. “It is a residential neighborhood, and I feel no need for this noise to continue,” he said. Mr. Donovan supported any regulations that would limit gun-range use for weekends.

A letter co-written by Jo and Mike Solet of Edgartown, said that hearing gunshots while sitting in one’s backyard is “disturbing.”

The majority of letter writers said that any bylaws would violate standing Massachusetts laws.

“There is no proposed bylaw to restrict gun laws on Martha’s Vineyard,” Board Member Robert Sparks said after the letters were presented. “This is an informational hearing.”

Most meeting attendees said that they were content with the gun ranges on Chappaquiddick and had no desire for things to change. The biggest issue seemed to be that the topic was being debated at all.

“I don’t want to say ‘much ado about nothing,’” Mr. Sparks said. “But I’m just amazed that there’s so little comment on the supposed problems with gun ranges … I certainly am not in favor of the planning board enacting or proposing any bylaw further restricting gun ranges.”

“I would just say the gunshots are heard all over on Chappaquiddick … But it’s something that’s allowable. We have to live with that,” Board Member Alan Wilson said.