Williston gun club says Senate bill makes communities less safe

North Country Sportsmen’s Club photo

The following letter was emailed to Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) and other sponsors of S57, which would allow municipalities to “limit or reduce” shooting at local gun clubs. The author is Bob Otty, president of the North Country Sportsmen’s Club in Williston. See related news story here.

Senator Hardy, 

I am writing you today in opposition to S.57, a bill on which you are a co-sponsor. Copied are the  sponsor, other co-sponsors, as well as members of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, where this bill appears to be located. Also copied is Senator Baruth (I make brief mention of S.3 and  associated testimony) and Erik Fitzpatrick with the Office of Legislative Council. 

The stated purpose of S.57 is to “authorize municipalities to adopt ordinances that may limit or reduce,  but not prohibit, the discharge of firearms at a sport shooting range”. While the inclusion of “but not  prohibit” may be meant to communicate that the bill is not intended to result in closure of shooting  ranges, I can tell you with certainty that ranges will close if this bill becomes law. If this sounds like  hyperbole, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss the basic economics of shooting ranges with  you and those copied. Should you be open to such a discussion, I would be happy to answer any  questions you may have. I will briefly say here; Shooting ranges are businesses. This is both literal (i.e.  organizationally) and in the sense that they must generate revenue to meet expenses and make  improvements. 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. 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. 

The concept of a municipality seeking to severely limit the activity of a shooting range within its borders  is not a hypothetical one. I point you to the Vermont Supreme Court case North Country Sportsman’s  Club v. Town of Williston (No. 2016-387). If you have not yet scrolled to the bottom of this message, I  will note here that I am the current president of North Country Sportsman’s Club as I was at the time of  referenced case. There were several important points in the written decision, but for the purposes of  this message I will keep my comments to 2 of them: 

1. In the undisputed findings of fact (paragraph 4), it is acknowledged that the Club had historically  hosted approximately 12 special events per year and that the Town sought to reduce the Club’s  activity to 5-6 special events per year. If the Club did not agree, an explicit threat was made to  reduce the number of allowed special events to 1-2 annually. As noted above, such an imposed  reduction in activity would ultimately have rendered the Club insolvent. I also feel compelled to  note that passage of S.57 would, essentially, endorse the tactics used by the Town that I think  could reasonably be referred to as “bullying”. 

2. Whether a motivation for introduction of S.57 or not, a narrative seems to have emerged in the  aftermath of the Slate Ridge case that municipalities do not currently have sufficient authority  over the operations of shooting ranges. This was stated prominently and repeatedly in the  Senate Committee on Judiciary hearings on Senator Baruth’s bill S.3. These statements, frankly,  betray an ignorance of the subject on the part of those seeking to legislate it.

The North Country Sportsman’s Club decision states explicitly in paragraph 17 that several statutory  changes made in 2006 allow “sport shooting ranges to maintain historical levels of use but not  necessarily to increase levels of shooting”. Similarly, it is stated that 24 V.S.A. 2291(8) in its  current form “does not protect increased levels of shooting” over a 2006 baseline. Said  differently, today, municipalities have the authority to limit sport shooting ranges to a level of  activity consistent with a 2006 baseline (but not less). Finally, references in both statute and the  North Country Sportsman’s Club decision refer to protections for “existing” ranges. This  presumably exempts new ranges (such as Slate Ridge) from similar protections, subjecting them  to municipal regulation. 

In closing, municipalities currently have all the authority necessary to reasonably regulate sport shooting ranges within their borders. Their failure to do so should not be rewarded with the provision of  additional regulatory levers. Likewise, municipalities that have attempted to overstep their current  authority should not be rewarded with the legalization of their tactics. S.57 is both unnecessary and  dangerous. I have said it at least twice but will say again here in my conclusion; Shooting ranges will  close if S.57 becomes law. Regardless of your feelings on sport shooting, hunting, marksmanship  competition, personal defense, or other sporting activities, shooting ranges should be supported rather  than put further under the thumb of the municipalities in which they reside. They are the places where  hunter safety courses are held, along with other classes on safe handling and use of firearms, and where  recreational shooting can occur in a safe environment, often with competent oversight. Reducing the  number of shooting ranges will limit access to classes and push recreational shooting into backyards,  farm fields, and woodlots.

Again, no matter your opinion of these activities, this is in no one’s best  interest. Considering the information presented here, and as your constituent, I must ask that you  withdraw your support for S.57 and that you urge your colleagues to withdraw the bill altogether. That  said, I will reiterate my willingness to discuss these topics with you, the sponsor and co-sponsors of S.57,  or any other interested parties at your convenience. 


Bob Otty 

President, North Country Sportsman’s Club 


Sen. Alison Clarkson 

Sen. Martine Gulick 

Sen. Richard McCormack 

Sen. Anne Watson 

Sen. Becca White 

Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky 

Sen. Robert Norris 

Sen. Philip Baruth 

Erik Fitzpatrick

Categories: Commentary

11 replies »

  1. Boy! This legislature seems to be doing everything they can to take away our rights and telling/ demanding us to do what THEY want us to do !!!!

  2. Thank you Mr. Otty. What you said about clubs going broke is 100% correct. In central Vt. we have at least two clubs that presently conduct some weekly events under the lights at night. The Montpelier Gun Club was established in 1895. The Barre Fish and Game Club was established in 1919. Both of these clubs predate most of the people, and their houses that are within earshot of either club. I would liken those complaining about them to those that build their house in the flight path of an airport. They build their houses (and in some cases, developments) and then complain about the noise. Do I feel sorry for those who build their houses next to a shooting facility ? …………

  3. This all chips away at the Bill of Rights. Little by little, obliquely.

  4. A very well written and thought-out letter to people who don’t care. They will pass S57 anyway. and there nothing to do about it with the eunuch we have for governor.

    • Actually there is something we can do about it which is leave VT for a red state which isn’t attempting to destroy gun rights. VT will soon be completely overrun by imported leftists, intent on ridding us of our “evil” guns while defunding the police. At the same time we will have increased incursions of drug dealing gang members who will have guns and won’t hesitate to use them, evidenced by our increasing homicide numbers. Taxes will skyrocket to care for the homeless and grifters who continue to flock here for gimmees. Driving a fuel powered car or truck, using heating oil or propane will cost even more to punish us. Our electric bills will continue to climb so we can pay for rich people to install solar panels, heat pumps and buy EV’s. So just leave them to it. I find it sad but it no longer feels like home to me. Planning on selling my home, closing my business and leaving as will my offspring.

      • After all the normal people leave and we take our guns with us, new liberals will move in and every house and home will be a gun free zone. It won’t take the criminal element to figure this out. Then Vermont will be like every other state and city ruined by liberals and the shootings will increase. There will be more illegal drug activity, Montpelier and Burlington will top it off with their trend of crime, de-funding the police, illegals voting, prostitution, drug addition, Over doses, more corruption and gambling. This of course will speed up the big flush when Vermont is finally broken, both morally and financially after they spend the last of the federal cash. You can thank 75% of the Vermont voters for destroying the state. I wasn’t one of them!

  5. This is what the progressives want. Guns are bad but letting the addicts and mentally ill run free is acceptable to them. People move here because they don’t like the state they left then they want it just like the crap state they left.

  6. I for one will stay and be a painful thorn in every Marxist’s side. I will continue to use my private range whenever I wish and will likely become part of the expanded criminal element that montpeculier is feverishly creating by outlawing previously legal activity.

  7. Seems to me that with increasing crime and fewer police, rational people would want people to be training and learning safe firearm use, instead of restricting it. So lets face it, we have a state run but lunatics who hate freedom and safety.

  8. When people are involved the people who are take control. Vermont is being hijacked and transformed. Right I front of everyone’s eyes. They just don’t see it yet!

  9. This is well-written Bob, and with excellent supporting data.
    The hypocrisy of S57 stinks. The Progs/Dems want to legalize all manner of truly harmful vices under the guise of being able to “control them” because they’re supposedly going to “happen anyhow” even if illegal (think marijuana, abortion, prostitution, etc…). Yet they want to expunge legal and well controlled gun clubs thus encouraging unsafe and uncontrolled shooting elsewhere, because it’s going to “happen anyhow”!
    Consider a run for State House, Bob, when you get to Bridport!