Tisbury selectmen discuss updating century-old firearms bylaw

Tisbury selectmen discussed updating firearms bylaw in regards to hunting policies on Tuesday. — File photo by Tim Johnson

Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan and selectmen agreed to form a committee to look at a town bylaw that prohibits discharging firearms in the town that has raised legal questions about hunting policies on Land Bank properties in town.

The more than century-old town bylaw states: “No person, shall for practice or sport, discharge any gun, pistol or other firearms, in or upon any street or highway, wharf or public place, or in any yard, garden field or enclosure in said Town.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank allows hunting with muzzleloaders in Ripley’s Field. Last fall, selectmen asked the Land Bank to prohibit the use of firearms after an abutter complained. Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said his agency was following state policy in allowing hunting, and asked selectmen to clarify town policy with respect to hunting in town.

This is not the first time the town bylaw has come under question. At the request of former selectman Tom Pachico, Tisbury town lawyer David Denesky reviewed the 1883 bylaw and concluded it did not support a blanket ban.

Town administrator Jay Grande said Tisbury needs to work with other towns and towns off-Island to see how they are handling hunting on land that is open to the public.

“If we are going to be talking about this, I would highly suggest that we ask one or two of those people [community members] to be part of this discussion,” selectman Larry Gomez said.  

Selectmen, Chief Hanavan, and Mr. Grande agreed to work with community members and the town attorney to develop an updated town bylaw prior to the start of the firearms deer hunting season.

State law prohibits the discharge of firearms within 150 feet of a roadway or 500 feet of an occupied building without permission of the owner. The Land Bank practice is to close properties during the state’s two-week shotgun season, which begins Nov. 30, to all but permitted hunters, and open properties during the week-and-a-half muzzleloader season that follows.