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The 500-Foot Absurdity

To the Editor:

Newtown is experiencing a surge in the frequency and rate of outdoor target shooting and a proliferation in the number of unregulated shooting ranges on private properties. The number of shooting complaints by worried homeowners logged by the Newtown Police has doubled in the past year alone. Shooting complaints now constitute the largest category of calls received by the Newtown Police. These calls are streaming in from all over town, as shown in the map broadcast on Frontline this past Tuesday. On my street, we are sometimes surrounded by the rat-a-tat-tat of semi-automatic fire sustained by high-capacity magazines coming simultaneously from points to the south, north, and west.

On the first Sunday morning of 2013, a person on our street was hit by a stray bullet from the unlicensed private range to the west. Here's the kicker: under our town code, that's just another day in the neighborhood, folks. Newtown's firearms discharge ordinance permits unrestricted discharge anywhere on a shooter's own property and discharge on the private property of another person restricted only by the owner's permission and a 500-foot rule with respect to occupied human dwellings and outbuildings for farm animals. The house where the man was shot is 1,750 feet from the range where the bullet was fired, so no law was broken and law enforcement officers had nothing to do.

The current Newtown firearms discharge ordinance is absurdly outdated and inadequate to today's ground truth. Let's compare Newtown's residential density in 1968, when the current ordinance was enacted, with what it is today. In 1970, the number of housing units in Newtown was 4,209; in 2010, that number was 10,061-an increase of 139 percent. In 1980, the proportion of Newtown's total land area that was developed was 26 percent; in 2008, that proportion of developed land was 77 percent-an increase of 196 percent (alternatively described, a 70-percent shrinkage in vacant land). The present population density of Newtown's residential land is 1,072 residents per square mile.

The current firearms discharge ordinance posits 500 feet as the axial length of the surface danger zone for any shooting range in Newtown. For Army range planning purposes, the terminal range for an AR-15 rifle, such as the one that Nancy Lanza taught her son to shoot at the Blue Trail Rifle Range, is 11,500 feet-285 percent longer than the radius of the circle that encloses 1,072 Newtown residents. Finally, consider the risk multiplication factors introduced when thousands of rounds are being fired from multiple semi-automatic guns in hours-long shooting sessions on multiple ranges with overlapping surface danger zones.

Shouldn't Newtown's civilians – and especially the littlest ones –be afforded at least as much protection from the dangers of Newtown's shooting ranges as the US Army mandates for its soldiers on Army ranges? If you think that the answer is yes, please come to the Ordinance Committee's next meeting on March 13 and say so to your elected representatives during the public hearing.

Robert Hutchinson

Split Rock Road, Newtown              February 20, 2013

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