By Guy Page
A bill introduced this week into the Vermont Senate would let municipalities to limit shooting at local, privately-owned gun clubs. One gun club says the bill would cause gun clubs to close.
S57 would amend current state law to “authorize municipalities to adopt ordinances that may limit or reduce, but not prohibit, the discharge of firearms at a sport shooting range.” The current law flatly says municipalities “shall not prohibit, reduce, or limit discharge at any existing sport shooting range.”
Sponsored by Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor), and co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Martine Gulick (Chittenden), Ruth Hardy (Addison), Richard McCormack (Windsor), Anne Watson (Washington), and Rebecca White (Windsor) the bill has been referred to the Senate Government Operations Committee, which oversees bills dealing with municipalities.
The bill fits with other legislation introduced this session giving municipalities more power to restrict firearms – a strategy announced by gun-control minded lawmakers before the session started. Gun rights advocates say it’s a frontal attack on the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights law forbidding municipal meddling in firearms restrictions.
S57 also flies in the face of a Vermont Supreme Court decision that protects firearms use at local gun clubs, Bob Otty, a Williston gun club president, said in an open letter sent to S57’s sponsors.
In a 2017 decision, the court agreed with the North Country Sportsmen’s Club in Williston that the town “under state law as well as its own ordinance the Town lacks authority to enforce its noise ordinance against the Club for engaging in sport shooting that is consistent with its historical usage.”
Otty also said that municipal action to “reduce, or limit discharge” would, as a practical matter, result in the closing of shooting clubs.
“Shooting ranges will close if S.57 becomes law,” Otty said.
“The revenue a shooting range generates is often closely related to the amount of activity (“discharge” in the language of the bill) at the range,” Ottey wrote to the sponsors. “Even for shooting ranges that rely primarily on membership revenue, it seems obvious that if a municipality were to reduce discharge at a range (e.g. fewer operating days) that membership and associated revenue would plummet. Once this is understood, it is easy to envision how a municipality may achieve closure of a shooting range within its borders by relatively quickly choking the range’s revenue streams.”