2017-04-13 / Front Page

TOWN BANS TARGET SHOOTING

3-2 VOTE CAPS CONTENTIOUS HEARING
BY TIM RIEL


East Shore Road resident Chris Cannon, who spearheaded efforts to curb target shooting in town, shows .50-caliber bullets Monday night to demonstrate the weapons that are currently permitted. Target shooters in town mocked the idea that anyone would use those sized bullets for recreation. 
PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN East Shore Road resident Chris Cannon, who spearheaded efforts to curb target shooting in town, shows .50-caliber bullets Monday night to demonstrate the weapons that are currently permitted. Target shooters in town mocked the idea that anyone would use those sized bullets for recreation. PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN A major blow was dealt to the island’s outdoorsmen Monday night after a divided town council voted 3-2 to end recreational shooting in Jamestown.

The raucous public hearing, which was attended by a capacity crowd of about 110 audience members, lasted nearly four hours. Following passionate testimony from shooters and their opponents, harmonized by rounds of applause and frequent outbursts, President Kristine Trocki, Councilman Gene Mihaly and Councilwoman Mary Meagher, all Democrats, approved the prohibition. Vice President Mike White broke with party lines and sided with Republican Councilman Blake Dickinson against the measure.


“The Jamestown of today is not the Jamestown of 20 years ago. That’s not good or bad. That’s simply the way it is.” Judith Sutphen East Shore Road “The Jamestown of today is not the Jamestown of 20 years ago. That’s not good or bad. That’s simply the way it is.” Judith Sutphen East Shore Road The adopted ordinance, which takes effect immediately, limits the discharge of firearms to hunting and self-defense. While the original measure had proposed banning all firearms recognized by the state, Mihaly’s amendment to remove air rifles, air pistols, blank guns and BB guns was passed.

“We no longer can live in a state of nature as it used to be defined,” Mihaly said.

“I really am sympathetic to those who have enjoyed this sport for decades,” Trocki said. “I’m not wishing to take that away.”

However, Trocki said she had to vote with her conscience. “My number-one job is public safety. It’s not to listen to the minority or the majority or to special interest groups. This issue is truly about public safety.”


“If we were discussing BB guns, we’d be in a whole different realm. But to have unregulated, self-built ranges strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen.” Cliff White Seaside Drive “If we were discussing BB guns, we’d be in a whole different realm. But to have unregulated, self-built ranges strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen.” Cliff White Seaside Drive Starting with a bang

The meeting commenced with fireworks. Just moments after Trocki’s plea for a civil meeting, Mihaly made a motion to adopt the prohibition, prompting an outburst from gun advocate Nick Robertson.

“This is bull,” shouted the former councilman. “We’re looking at a police state.”

Robertson, who has managed a shooting range on his Carr Lane farm for five decades, argued such a quick motion proved the public hearing was a farce. The council already had made up its mind, he alleged.

“If you cared, you’d be listening to your constituents,” he said. “I ain’t buying any of it.”


“We encourage the public to visit all of our properties. The guests of our town should not be the backstop for our unregulated ranges.” Quentin Anthony Bayview Drive “We encourage the public to visit all of our properties. The guests of our town should not be the backstop for our unregulated ranges.” Quentin Anthony Bayview Drive After Trocki threatened to have Robertson removed from the meeting, the hearing embarked on a long line of testimonials. Mike de Angeli and Chris Cannon, whose properties abut the shooting range at 21 Wildflower Lane, spoke about their experience living next door to gunfire.

“I want to semi-apologize because Chris Cannon and I are the neighbors who started this all two years ago,” de Angeli said.

Shooters have maintained the issue is nothing more than a neighborhood dispute between de Angeli, Cannon and Cheryl LaFazia, the range’s owner. The men should have approached LaFazia with their complaints to look for a compromise, shooters say, before involving the town. De Angeli, however, dismissed that argument.


“Because neighbors are ignorant of what’s happening at our so-called gun range, they feel like they have to do something.” Melissa Caito Wildflower Lane “Because neighbors are ignorant of what’s happening at our so-called gun range, they feel like they have to do something.” Melissa Caito Wildflower Lane “When you hear rapid-fire weapons going off, you call the cops,” he said. “My dogs are going crazy. My chickens are going nuts. I don’t suspect any of these people are dangerous, but accidents happen. It’s not the Wild West anymore.”

Melissa Caito, LaFazia’s daughter, said the argument is a personal tiff, not a safety concern. “It’s ridiculous and childish,” she said. “These people aren’t shooting willy-nilly.”

Caito also said it wasn’t the council’s job to regulate disputes between neighbors.

“Unfortunately, the toothpaste is out of the tube,” Trocki replied.


“Target shooting is superbly safe. People are shooting for the pupil of an eye, not the side of a mountain.” Ernie Violet East Shore Road “Target shooting is superbly safe. People are shooting for the pupil of an eye, not the side of a mountain.” Ernie Violet East Shore Road To prove it was more than a dispute, de Angeli said he supported prohibition despite a second proposal that would create 500-foot setbacks. That would ban the Wildflower property.

“My neighbor would be out of business,” he said. “Personally, that’s great. But it’s not a way to run a town.”

Gauging public opinion

Cannon dismissed an online poll administered by The Jamestown Press that indicated 87 percent of 1,222 respondents supported the status quo with no local regulations because it didn’t represent Jamestown. He pointed to a post on AR15.com, a self-described online firearm community. A poster from Connecticut solicited votes by linking to the survey in a forum. Scores of voters from Arizona to Poland indicated they voted in the poll.


“There isn’t a parent in this room who doesn’t care about the safety of their kids. Safety starts at home. And these people with gun ranges believe in that.” Joe Medeiros Frigate Street “There isn’t a parent in this room who doesn’t care about the safety of their kids. Safety starts at home. And these people with gun ranges believe in that.” Joe Medeiros Frigate Street “That (the poll) holds very little weight,” said Randy White, a Westwood Road homeowner who has co-led the charge for prohibition.

Trocki agreed the poll was skewed. She said influence should lean more toward the 43 residents who wrote the town seeking a ban. Patricia Young, however, who shoots clay pigeons on her 45-acre Beavertail property, said a few dozen letters in a town of 5,500 residents shouldn’t direct policy.

“If I knew I had a vote, I would have written a letter,” she said.


ABOVE: Town Councilors Gene Mihaly, Kristine Trocki, Mary Meagher and Mike White, left to right. Blake Dickinson sits hidden between Mihaly and Trocki. ABOVE: Town Councilors Gene Mihaly, Kristine Trocki, Mary Meagher and Mike White, left to right. Blake Dickinson sits hidden between Mihaly and Trocki. Liability concerns

Although there was a second proposal that would have permitted restricted shooting on the two largest zoning districts, that measure didn’t gain any traction. White, a retired state prosecutor, argued against that ordinance, saying it would open the town to liability.

“If you write an ordinance, you better make sure it doesn’t get you too close to the fire,” he said.

Town Administrator Andy Nota corroborated White’s claim. He said doing nothing and adopting prohibition offered the most legal protection. “Anything from there, in stages, starts to add liability.”

Regardless, Nota said the decision shouldn’t rely on legal concerns, no matter which route the council decided to take.

RIGHT: Nick Robertson chides the councilors for allegedly making up their minds before listening to comments from residents. PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN RIGHT: Nick Robertson chides the councilors for allegedly making up their minds before listening to comments from residents. PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN “You shouldn’t be scared by the liability questions,” he said. “Our insurance covers that. We won’t be exposed to millions of dollars in liability.”

Robertson said the opposition was spewing “rhetoric and propaganda toward the uniformed.” Target shooting has proved safe in town, he said, evidenced by no recorded accidents. He also displayed disappointment that the opponents never visited his range to learn more about the sport.

“It’s become us versus them,” he said. “And it’s driving a wedge into this island.”

Robertson said shooters should have the same rights as other sportsmen, from golfers to soccer players.

“The trap shooter, the skeet shooter and the target shooter is not your enemy,” he said. “He’s your neighbor. He practices his sport, on his property, with his own expenses. He deserves the same rights, the same consideration and the same dignity that you want in your sports. He doesn’t deserve to be a second-class citizen.”

Disrespect, division and disappointment

Just before the council’s turn to discuss prohibition, Tom Raczelowski, who chairs the town’s GOP committee, suggested an all-day referendum.

“If you vote for this, it will be the perfect example of government by a minority,” he said.

Raczelowski’s comment seemed to ignite a demonstrably annoyed Councilman White, who typically is reserved during meeting. He was disappointed at the disrespectful conduct shown during the hearing.

“Both sides have started to piss me off,” he said. “This is a representative democracy. You elect us. We make the decision.”

White, who wasn’t on the council when the issue surfaced in September 2014, said he was sorry it ever got this far. “For some reason, the town council became responsible for solving a neighborhood problem,” he said. “I’ve changed my mind a number of times. It didn’t start right, and it doesn’t seem like it’s any of our business.”

Dickinson, who was visibly upset about the vote, offered similar thoughts.

“I’ve been in objection to having any kind of meeting like this that puts a large divide in our community,” Dickinson said. “I’m deeply concerned that we’re here.”

Dickinson also was disappointed that what began in 2014 with both sides working together morphed into Monday’s hearing.

“Going from a solution to prohibition is a little disingenuous,” he said. “We don’t need this kind of division in town.”

Dickinson also pointed to the fear of litigation from shooters. “They have a course of action,” he said. “I’m concerned about it.”

Meagher said rules are comforting. For example, knowing there are hunting regulations calms her on Christmas morning when she hears gunfire.

“Every decision I make up here is mindful of the unique character of this town,” she said. “Although shooters have been safe up until now, I must acknowledge that past performance is not a promise of future results.”

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