BRUNSWICK, Maine — More than a dozen residents frustrated by noise from private shooting ranges in West Brunswick attended Monday night’s Town Council meeting to share their concerns about proposed changes to the rules governing private and commercial shooting ranges.
District 1 Councilor David Watson proposed the changes that he said do not aim to deal with noise but deal “specifically with public safety.”
Watson said after Monday’s meeting that changes proposed — such as licensing target ranges every three years instead of every year — would benefit the town’s police department.
“Asking [the police department] to protect the community and asking them to inspect ranges annually is not an efficient use of their time,” Watson said.
The changes proposed include: extending the license inspection period from one year to three years; exempting law enforcement officers from the current time restrictions for target practice, but mandating that such practice not occur later than 10 p.m.; exempting .22-caliber rifles from time restrictions for target practice; limiting shooting hours on Sunday to between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and instituting a penalty for interference or an attempt to interfere “ with the lawful operation of a licensed target practice site” or attempts to “ intimidate or harass” the owner or operator of the site.
After Monday’s meeting, Watson said any changes would likely be on hold until after the town’s budget season, which is expected to end June 12 in a schedule the council reviewed Monday.
Before the question comes back to the council, Watson said, more public and neighborhood input will be weighed in relation to the proposed rule changes.
Residents speaking at Monday’s council meeting largely voiced concerns about noise from the ranges, raising the most complaints about what they said was “tactical shooting” with semiautomatic weapons.
Currently, private ranges are free to operate on any day between 8 a.m. and either sunset or 8 p.m.
Hallie Daughtry, former District 3 councilor and resident of Oak Ridge Road, described an “acute stress response” she has to the sound of weapons being fired at a nearby range.
On Monday, Daughtry submitted a 30-signature petition and list of requests to the Town Council.
Mike Laskey, of Bunganuc Road, who was part of the group that worked on the ordinance changes, said that “ none of the changes I made were in this draft.”
Laskey said that the duration and ability for permitted ranges to shoot between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, is too broad.
“When the shooting starts, we want to know when it’s going to end,” Laskey said, tearing up slightly at the podium. “When the shooting starts, then I can go down to Wolfe’s Neck State Park for an hour, two hours, six hours — whatever you decide is reasonable.”
Mike Malis, who is licensed to operate a private shooting range on Bunganuc Road, said that the idea of the original ordinance was “purely safety” and not noise.
“I thought this discussion was going to be about the changes to shooting times on Sundays,” Malis said.
He said he does not oppose that change.
Malis said he measured the volume of the shooting range from the roadside years ago, with .9 mm rounds registering at 90 decibels and rifle shot registering at just over 100 decibels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows people to be exposed to 90 decibels of sound for eight hours a day in their workplace. Two hours of exposure to 100 decibel sound is allowed and one half hour of exposure to 110 decibel sound is allowed.
The petition presented Monday by Daughtry suggests that the town look at its noise ordinance dealing with disorderly houses to find standards to apply to private shooting ranges and also suggested changes to the permitting process, which is currently done through an application to the police department.
“Liquor and special entertainment licenses require public hearings,” the petition states. “Firing range licenses should merit equal public hearings since they can have an even more dramatic and permanent impact on the peace of a neighborhood, affecting our welfare, health and property values.”
Neighbors also challenged the idea that the neighborhoods in West Brunswick are properly classified as rural.
“I lived in Waldo County — Brunswick is not rural,” Bunganuc Road resident Susan Stoddard said. “It has rural aspects.”
Stoddard said she’s seen the area become more “suburbanized” since moving to Brunswick 25 years ago, and “with greater density comes changing ideas of how we use the land and how neighbors relate to one another.”
The petition also requests that the permitting process provide a mode of appeal for nearby residents.
Peter Footer, a resident of Old Bath Road, said that neighbors have been “most obliging” of his private shooting range, where he said he’ll sometimes shoot every day in a week and sometimes not for months.
Footer said that the noise from a shooting range doesn’t bother him — his hearing loss, he said, is a testament to his fondness for shooting.
Gunfire might make some people nervous, Footer said, but that idea he attributed to false perceptions.
“It’s understandable why people should be scared of firearms, between the news media and TV and movies,” Footer said. “Most is shot at targets, and I don’t get worried even if I hear gunfire that’s not from a licensed range.”
More fundamentally, Footer identified his gun — and the ability to shoot it — as a way of life.
“I’ve carried a gun since I was 16 years old and I will probably carry one until the day I die,” Footer said. “I think there will be a day when we all learn to live by the gun again.”
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