Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 23 to clarify that the specific proposal was introduced by town counsel after some residents brought the matter to the town’s attention.
A request from residents to restrict gun use in town led to concerns from Select Board members that a change might adversely affect hunters, but the board agreed Tuesday to hold a spot for a potential article on the Town Meeting warrant while more information is gathered.
A resident of Hill Street (off Spring Street, near the border with Westborough) was among those who brought the matter to the town’s attention after what he said has been three years of loud and frequent gunfire from a neighbor.
“Three years ago I got home from work and my at-the-time 3-year-old son ran up to me and said, ‘Daddy, they’re shooting guns,’ ” Phil Mastroianni recalled. “We ran inside because we were unsure of exactly what was going on.”
Mastroianni said it’s essentially an unlicensed gun range, with a variety of guns, apparently including semiautomatic firearms.
“I live 1,500 feet away,” Mastroianni said. “When this gentleman is shooting, it feels like he’s right next door because of the variety of guns and weapons. We’re talking about 100 rounds being shot within about 15 minutes. So we want everyone to be aware that this individual is the person who is putting hunting at risk in Hopkinton.”
State law limits the discharge of firearms to a distance greater than 500 feet from a building or dwelling in use unless the shooter has consent from the impacted parties, town manager Norman Khumalo told the board.
After hearing residents’ concerns, town counsel came up with a proposal that extends the buffer distance to 1,000 feet from a building or dwelling in use, and it adds 300 feet from a public way. It would have no effect on existing licensed gun ranges or for on-duty law enforcement personnel.
Mastroianni said multiple neighbors have called police about the issue, and former Hopkinton Police Chief Edward Lee attempted to come up with an amicable solution, to no avail.
Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said he was “very, very sympathetic” with Mastroianni’s plight but was concerned about the effect on hunting.
“I have a real problem with us changing the overall hunting overlay district for where people can hunt and where they can’t because of one obstinate neighbor in town,” he said, saying it would “significantly impact the area in town where the people that are hunters could go and do their hunting.”
Mastroianni said the issue is causing great concern on his street, with most people afraid to speak out.
“There’s a general fear in the neighborhood,” he said. “No one wants to do what I’m doing right now. No one wants to do that. They’re all fearful because they’ve heard the variety of guns that this person shoots. Also we’re aware from Chief Lee, and that was seconded by when I spoke with Chief [Joseph] Bennett, that the resident wants nothing to do with knowing any of us or talking to any of us. But basically, a handgun can move 900 feet in a second. So, it is a safety measure. Further, it is definitely a mental health issue in the Woodville area. With all that being said, we don’t want to stop hunting, but we can’t keep living like this. This is not going to go away.”
Added Mastroianni: “It’s a safety concern. It’s a mental health concern. We don’t want to ruin hunting in Hopkinton. It’s not us. It’s this gentleman. He needs a neighborly neighbor to prevent it, and we ask you to do it because we’re all scared. I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine just to come on this tonight, and my wife is not going to speak to me the rest of the night just because of this. It really is a safety issue. Please protect our children.”
A couple of board members suggested approaching it from the angle of the noise impact, although it was unclear how that might work.
“I like the potential of making it a noise ordinance, but I don’t know if it’s going to be ready for prime time this year,” Tedstone said. “I think that we could probably get the people in town that need to get together and figure out a way that we can present this so as to not impact the hunting community.”
The motion to put the article on the Town Meeting warrant as a placeholder passed unanimously, with Tedstone adding an amendment that it would be removed if it’s not “clear and concise” by April 13, which is the deadline for when the warrant must be signed.