ELLSWORTH — A request by a resident for a variance to allow target practice on a private shooting range was denied by city councilors on Aug. 16. The vote was 5-2, with councilors Michelle Kaplan and Gene Lyons in the minority.
The Discharge of Firearms Ordinance was put on the city ordinance books in 1969 and makes it “unlawful to shoot or discharge any firearm within a distance of 300 yards of any dwelling house within the urban limits of the city of Ellsworth except by owner or resident or persons authorized by owner or resident.”
So while property owners may shoot on their own property, it must be done 300 yards from all neighbors.
John Linnehan, who built a shooting range on his Shore Road property, gave several reasons why he thought councilors should grant a variance. Since the property was used for target practice and was purchased prior to 1969, Linnehan thought a variance could be “grandfathered,” based on when the ordinance was approved.
City Manager Glenn Moshier said that after checking with the city attorney, once an ordinance is passed, “it’s the letter of the law from that day forward,” so amending the ordinance would be the only way forward.
“Whether that’s warranted under these particular circumstances or because the ordinance was written in 1969, I don’t know, but that’s the process we’d have to go through,” Moshier said.
Linnehan also pointed to the state law, which only requires 300 feet, not 300 yards, distance, questioning whether the 1969 local ordinance was written in error and 300 feet was the city’s original intent.
Councilor John Phillips questioned the proximity of schools and houses.
“Within 150 feet of your [property] line, to the right are probably 40 or 50 houses. You’ve got a school that’s probably less than 300 yards away and another school 400 yards away,” he said. “You’re surrounded by people.”
“I understand your desire to shoot, but I think it’s a poorly conceived spot and there’s no decent neighborly way to do that without disturbing countless other people,” Phillips continued. “I just don’t see the logic in trying to disrupt the whole neighborhood for your satisfaction of firing your gun on your property.”
Finally, Linnehan raised the U.S. Constitution.
“The Constitution of the United States guarantees us this right [to shoot] in what’s commonly known as the Second Amendment,” Linnehan said. “It says as a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of the free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.” He defined “well-regulated” as “well-practiced and proficient.”
“To me, I want to be able to protect my family by my constitutional rights, and I want to be proficient and well-practiced to be able to do that,” he concluded.
Linnehan said a variance was the simplest way to fill his request, but that he would explore other avenues, such as amending the ordinance. Council Chairman Dale Hamilton said he was open to discussing possible changes to the ordinance.
“For me, it’s not a matter of gun rights, and ownership, it’s a safety issue,” Hamilton said. “What are the safety parameters in palace? Is 300 yards the right distance? Is 300 feet? If there needs to be a change, if there’s momentum for that kind of request, I would certainly support a discussion in the future about changing the ordinance.”