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Shooting banned at Scituate gun club

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / April 29, 2012
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A group of Scituate neighbors has won a big victory in a long-running legal battle, after a judge prohibited rifle and pistol shooting at the Scituate Rod & Gun Club.

The club has been in litigation with neighbors over the rifle and pistol ranges since early 2009, when stray bullets allegedly were found on nearby properties.

In a decision issued earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Charles J. Healy permanently barred any person from firing a rifle or pistol on the club premises until certain safety modifications can be made.

In addition, damages ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 were awarded to several neighbors.

Archery, skeet shooting, and other activities are still allowed.

“It’s a win; there’s no doubt about that,’’ said Dan Dwyer, an attorney at Murphy & King who is representing the neighbors. “The lawsuit was about safety, and they got a permanent injunction.’’

He added that while it is not accurate to say the plaintiffs are unconcerned about hunters in the woods, since a preliminary injunction was issued in 2009 no one’s house had been hit by bullets.

“This was only from the gun club,’’ Dwyer said. “. . . I had a witness say, ‘We don’t think the hunters were the ones shooting at us,’ and I think it’s a reasonable inference.’’

While the neighbors feel that an acute threat to public safety has been resolved, the recent acquisition of 31 acres of open space in West Scituate, approved by Town Meeting this month, has spawned broader concerns about hunting regulations that selectmen hope to address in the coming weeks.

The undeveloped land is located on Hollycrest Road off Booth Hill Road, and its purchase was supported by the Community Preservation Committee.

Issues arose when Advisory Committee members realized that the land, which would complete a 300-acre mosaic of conservation land in West Scituate, was adjacent to the rod and gun club.

Members believe that overall hunting regulations may be too lax.

A town bylaw prohibits hunting and the discharge of firearms at Tack Factory Pond and all areas east of Route 3A, except for the glades at Minot and the North River Marshes. Where shooting is allowed, the only regulations in place are the state’s, which dictate the times that hunting can take place throughout the year and hunters’ required distance from a dwelling or paved road.

Besides that, there are few signs as to what is allowed, limited knowledge in the community that hunting is permissible on the large swath of land in that area, and limited restrictions about nonhunting gun usage, said Karen Connolly, a member of the Advisory Committee.

“At this point, with no rules, no regulations, no signage, nothing, people can hunt and shoot out there,’’ she said. “I’m especially concerned about the shooting. It doesn’t mean you’re hunting. You can put a Coke can in a tree and shoot at it. I don’t think that’s right, and I don’t think people in town, when they approve these land acquisitions, knew this was legal.’’

Hunters she has spoken to agree that there should be rules and regulations for the area and that signs should be openly posted, to avoid confusion.

“I’m not antihunting. . . . [The rules] just should be posted,’’ Connolly said.

She has asked to address the issue before selectmen and hopes to propose a committee that would create a management plan for the properties. The committee would decide what rules should be in place and figure out how to make them known to the public.

“We are pretty good in Scituate managing our natural resources,’’ Connolly said. “We have beaches we maintain, the harbor; there are rules and regulations. Now we have to step up and do it to the 300-plus acres we have in the west end. It’s the same size as World’s End in Hingham.’’

Tony Vegnani, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the hunting issue is nothing new, as the other 200-plus acres of land previously acquired by the town have been open for hunting since they were purchased. Even so, town officials will look to see what more needs to be done in terms of signs, as well as a possible review of the hunting bylaws.

“The thought was - in fact, we’re following up on it now - is we’re trying to discuss with planning and Conservation Commission what we need to do to make people aware and make any changes to [the way things are], but right now it is what it is,’’ Vegnani said.

The selectmen’s discussions will probably occur before the purchase of the 31 additional acres in West Scituate is finalized, Vegnani said.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.

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