Ashfield Select Board opts against pursuing gun noise regulations, taking cues from Williamsburg case in 2017

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2022 11:03:21 AM
Modified: 11/29/2022 11:03:06 AM

ASHFIELD — The town will not create new bylaws to regulate gun noise, despite being urged to do so at a well-attended forum earlier this month.

“I’m afraid if bylaws were proposed it would end up with the town in a legal battle we wouldn’t want to pay for,” said Select Board member Steven Gougeon, noting that the board reached its conclusion after much discussion and taking its cues from a similar situation that arose in Williamsburg in 2017.

Residents first complained to the Select Board regarding gun noise on West Road about a year ago. According to Gougeon, the board sought legal advice at that time, but board members were told the state attorney general would most likely stop any attempted regulation due to gun use being constitutionally protected.

After more complaints, the Select Board held a forum about the issue on Nov. 14 that drew more than 100 people.

The gun noise problem at 620 West Road, owned by full-time Wellesley resident Jacky K.D. Shi, who visits Ashfield on weekends for recreational activities, was reportedly resolved before the forum took place.

After several attempts to reach Shi, former Ashfield resident Keith Harmon Snow visited Shi’s home in Wellesley to explain the situation. According to Harmon Snow, Shi did not realize his land was in the vicinity of other people’s homes and that his gunfire was disturbing neighbors. Harmon Snow said Shi, who did not attend the forum, hopes to work with neighbors in the future.

However, Ashfield resident Lauren Mills proposed a new ordinance to regulate gun noise. Her proposal stated it would be unlawful for anyone “to make, permit, continue, or cause to be made or to create any unreasonably loud and disturbing noise in Ashfield.”

In reaching its decision not to pursue a new ordinances Gougeon said Select Board members “took a lot of our cues from Williamsburg.” The Hampshire County town was unsuccessful in attempting to regulate gun noise coming from a home gun range, leading Ashfield officials to believe they would be unable to regulate the gun noise in their town. Officials can regulate commercial gun ranges only; they are unable to codify and restrict home gun ranges as long as the ranges follow proper setbacks, according to Gougeon.

Following nine years of contentious debate concerning shooting activities at 74 Village Hill Road in Williamsburg, the state Superior Court ruled in December 2019 that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals had improperly imposed conditions crafted to control gun noise there. In his decision, Judge John Agostini reversed in part and remanded back to the ZBA its 2017 vote on the shooting range, stating that seven of the board’s 14 regulatory conditions concerned noise reduction and that those conditions are “unlawful and unenforceable.”

Agostini noted that state law shields shooting ranges from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution related to noise produced by gunfire.

“This statute unmistakably exempts the plaintiffs from any civil action or criminal prosecution relating to the town of Williamsburg noise bylaw,” Agostini wrote in his decision. Any restrictions imposed on shooting activity at the property had to be clearly explained and specifically related to public safety, he said.

Despite not making plans to change any bylaws, Gougeon said he was pleased with the respect presented at Ashfield’s public forum.

“This particular issue was concluded the best way possible,” he said.

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