Select Board removes proposed firearm restriction amendment for this year but plans to revisit it

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The Select Board voted unanimously Tuesday not to take action on the proposed amendment to the general bylaw that deals with the discharge of firearms, a proposal that was widely and loudly panned by local hunters.

While the board is passing on the proposal for this year, members expressed an interest in discussing it as a potential submission for 2022 Town Meeting, albeit likely with the verbiage substantially different.

The proposal — to extend the distance a firearm could be discharged to 1,000 feet — up from 500 feet — from a dwelling or other building in use (unless permission was granted) or 300 feet from a public way — was suggested by town counsel in response to complaints from residents on or in the area of Hill Street (off Spring Street, on the Westborough border), where a resident’s firearm use has caused concern.

Hill Street resident Phil Mastroianni spoke about the issue at a Select Board meeting last month, stating that he was not looking to restrict hunters but rather find a solution to what he termed a “safety concern” and a “mental health concern” due to what he said was a large number of rounds being shot in a short period of time from a variety of weapons.

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone stood up for Mastroianni, who he said “has been labeled a villain” and unfairly so. Tedstone noted that the proposed amendment came from town counsel, not from Mastroianni nor any of the other residents who brought the issue to the town’s attention. (Editor’s note: This fact also has been clarified in the Independent’s story on the Jan. 26 Select Board meeting.)

“He did not present a piece of paper to us stating that he wanted to make this a 1,000-foot buffer zone and 300 feet from a road,” Tedstone said. “He did not do any of that. He simply came on out of concern for his family, which I absolutely applaud him for. … I feel very, very badly for all the garbage that he’s been put through and the misconception and the thought that he was trying to eliminate hunting, buffer zones, things like that. He just was concerned for the safety of his family.”

During public comment, Spring Street resident Austin Susmann said he’s “actively disturbed” by the “chance of a stray bullet coming into my house, into my backyard.”

Susmann said he was not concerned with the noise nor with hunters, just with safety. He suggested the language should be adjusted to “restrict backyard ranges.”

Board member Irfan Nasrullah said he also has had issues with gun use being a nuisance.

“I actually brought this issue up well over a year ago,” Nasrullah said. “So if the public has an ire on someone who’s initiating this, you can direct it at me. I’m happy to take the heat.”

Added Nasrullah: “I think it makes sense to open this up with all the interested parties to try to come up with a solution that addresses rights for hunters, which I strongly support, and my right to be able to hang out in my backyard without hearing gunshots all hours of the night.”

Board member Brian Herr suggested the board vote to take no action, stating: “We’re not going to be able to get it down between now and May. It’s a very sensitive topic.”

Tedstone agreed, but promised it would be addressed at another time.

“We’re not taking this and throwing it away,” he said. “We’re taking this and we’re going to have a discussion on it. This will give us enough time to vet it maybe for the next Town Meeting. But we clearly don’t have the time required to vet it for this Town Meeting.”

Longtime resident (and hunter) Dick Germaine, speaking during public comment, urged the town to include the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in future discussions.

Meanwhile, the board unanimously voted to keep the other four proposed bylaw amendments on the Town Meeting warrant. They include updates to the dog licensing bylaw so as to comply with state law, and updates to the street opening and trench permitting processes.

The other amendment clarifies and expands on the town’s bylaw dealing with obstruction of streets and sidewalks. It bans anyone from depositing material including snow, leaves and sand on a sidewalk or road if it impairs travel.

Board member Amy Ritterbusch asked about the possibility of including overgrown bushes, but town manager Norman Khumalo said, “That issue has not been brought to our attention as a problem in town.” He said anyone with such a concern should contact town officials, who would work with the homeowner on a solution.