LONDONDERRY — While law-abiding gun owners are welcome at town conservation sites, town officials are concerned at the evidence of frequent target shooting in the Musquash Conservation Area.
Dumping out an oversized cardboard box of empty shell casings and other debris he’d gathered at the site off High Range Road, Councilor Jim Butler told fellow councilors Monday night that the presence of target shooters poses a public safety risk.
“I believe every citizen has the right to bear arms,” said Butler, who noted that he is a gun owner. “But in my opinion, this target shooting we’re seeing here isn’t being done by responsible gun owners.”
“Responsible gun owners aren’t so careless: they do not leave behind shell casings, cigarette butts, beer cans and live ammo,” he said.
Butler said he recently walked through the Musquash with members of the Conservation Commission. They were alarmed by evidence of shooting “being done across trails, in the direction of trails and, in some cases, with rocks and trees being used as targets.”
Town Manager Kevin Smith said conservation sites in Merrimack and Bow also permit hunting, but have signs posted warning against target shooting. He said the town’s attorney, Mike Ramsdell, told him Londonderry could do the same, though enforcing such a law might prove challenging.
Police Chief William Hart said under the current town ordinance, the local arm of the law is rather limited when addressing target shooters,
“At this point, the most I could probably do is arrest someone for littering,” Hart said. “It would be difficult to prove that someone is being a public nuisance or engaging in reckless conduct, unless a police officer is there to witness it.”
While Butler said he’d like to see target shooting “banned on all town-owned property,” Councilor Tom Freda said he felt that hunting “was far more dangerous than firing at a stationary target.”
“We can regulate target shooting, but we’re not allowed to regulate hunting,” Freda said. “So the impression (a ban on just target shooting) would place is that it’s safe in the Musquash. But we know that hundreds of people get shot every year in hunting accidents.”
Councilor Joe Green noted that hunting season is publicly posted, whereas target shooting “happens on a 24/7 basis.”Hart said if the town does decide to ban target shooting, it won’t likely lead to officers patrolling the trails.
“The Musquash is 1,000 acres,” Hart said. “And right now, we have our hands full with significant road and residential crimes on a daily basis. So while I appreciate the potential danger a person may face out there, in my judgment it seems to me the priorities need to be different.”
The Town Council agreed to discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting, though a public hearing date is yet to be announced.