ESSEX, Vt. — A proposed firing restriction in the area has gun owners up in arms over the possibility of a large chunk of land being stripped away from their hunting grounds.
If implemented, hunters would be prohibited from discharging their firearms in Indian Brook Park, Saxon Hill Forest and a large privately owned area to the north, even if they own the land.
According to opponents of the ordinance, the firing restriction could be a detriment to maintaining the herd population and cause a rise in ticks and tick-borne diseases, among others.
“Hunting is a very important part of herd management, and when you reduce the amount of hunters, then you reduce the state’s ability to manage the herd,” said Mike Cady, a land-owner and Essex resident. “When deer get overpopulated, you’re now talking about unintentional consequences of destroying people’s gardens, crops, disease and starving amongst the animals.”
The Essex Selectboard worked on two different options for how to implement the ordinance, based on suggestions made by former Police Chief Brad LaRose.
In Sept. 2016, LaRose came up with three aspects on implementing the firing ordinance.
The first recommendation was to ban firing in certain areas entirely. The second was to prohibit the discharge of rifles, but allow discharge of shotgun shells containing shot, as well as discharge of pistols. The third and final option would be to prohibit the discharge of rifles and pistols while allowing the discharge of shotgun shells containing shot.
“I think as a general group, the current options as they are written are unnarrated, and we don’t want any of those changes to happen. However, I think there’s certainly room for discussion on the topic and perhaps there’s some smart additions we can make to the ordinance to increase safety,” Cady said.
Based on these recommendations, the Selectboard came up with two options to go about these changes.
Option A, the fastest and most practical approach to coming up with a new firing ordinance, would require the Selectboard to hear the concerns of both sides of the public to come up with a decision before the beginning of the 2018 hunting season.
Option B, the slower approach, would allow residents of the town to be a part of a Community Advisory Team to host conversations, summarize findings and make the proper recommendations to the Selectboard for any ordinance changes necessary. This would not go into effect until after the 2018 hunting season.
The Selectboard made the decision on April 19, 2018, to go with Option A in determining what is best for the town.
“I think it’s important for both sides of the stance. It’s important to increase the communication,” Cady said. “I think the downfall — something we can solve this summer — is sort of a lack of communication of both sides and a lack of education on both sides as well.”
This ordinance stems from two isolated incidents that occured in Essex in the past.
On Sept. 23, 2008, John Reiss, a retired St. Michael’s College professor, was killed instantly by a stray bullet that entered his home while he was sitting at his dining room table. In 2015, a bullet was found lodged in the wall of a different residential home.
“I think that’s kind of the catalyst for some discussion,” Cady said. “I think those are the two incidences that are kind of the driving factor behind it.”
Essex resident Kevin Murdough thinks the turnout at Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting will be a mixture of people who support or disagree with the ordinance, but the majority will probably be residents who own the land that is proposed for the firing restriction.
“Even if it’s on my land, I believe I’m still prohibited from shooting,” Murdough said. “I have almost 21 acres here, and as far as I’m concerned I should be able to fire a weapon on it.”
He added that if the ordinance is implemented, it’s only an ordinance and the consequences for being caught may only result in a small fine.
“It might deter a few people, but it’s just an ordinance. … It’s not a game violation, they wouldn’t take your deer, but it’s still a violation and you’d be subject to pay some sort of fine because of it,” he said.
Essex resident Keith Cutler said another driving factor behind this is the fact that people are just “dead set” against guns even if they’ve never owned a gun and are not educated on the subject.
“There’s a small group of people that are pushing for it, but most of us are directly affected and it’s literally 20 of us, and then the person that’s been pushing this thing from the start,” Cutler said. “It’s really amazing that one person can get something that far.”
Cutler said other cities in the country that have passed no-shooting ordinances have run into more problems, including animal population control.
“What are you gonna say to the mother who’s lost a daughter or son when they plow into a deer because they’re all over the place? Not only that, it’s the tradition of hunting in itself,” he said.
Sean McCuin is also an Essex resident and he fears that hunters who are passing through the area will be unaware of the ordinance due to a lack of signage.
“Somebody from another town comes through during deer season and they see a buck out there, but not signage that tells them they’re in a restricted area,” he said.
This was one of the ideas that he said was contributed when the town was discussing options for the ordinance.
Another idea of a possible shooting range available to police, community members and anyone else, was essentially swept under the rug and disregarded when brought up at the meeting.
“[Larose] said it was kind of like a band-aid, and I don’t really see some of the things we came up with as a band-aid. Signage is important — how would people who don’t live in the area know about any of that?” McCuin said. “Nobody even talked about the shooting range. I surmised that probably the town doesn’t want to touch something that could create a liability for them with a ten-foot pole.”
The town of Essex is offering multiple public forums on proposed changes to the firearms discharge ordinance. The first will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 5 at Founders Memorial School.
Additional information can be found on the town’s website.
Briana Bocelli is a freelance reporter for True North Reports.