North Adams, Massachusetts Mayor Tom Bernard is moving to close the city’s public shooting range against the objections of some city council members and residents.
Precipitated by community conversations in February and March about safety and noise concerns at the Pattinson Road range, Mayor Bernard told the North Adams City Council Tuesday that the city’s insurers were caught off guard.
“When we informed them that we were asking questions with regards to the gun range they were honestly surprised to know that we had one," said Bernard at the meeting. "And the fact is that we are a rare municipality – we may be the only one in the commonwealth with a public gun range – but certainly one of the few that MAIIA, the insurance provider, knew about.”
Upon learning about the range, Bernard says the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association told the city that as of July 1st, 2019, the range would no longer be insured. Additionally, Bernard says the annual fee for use of the range violated Public Use Statute of Massachusetts law, which does not allow for restrictions on access for public resources. The current fee to use the range is $10 for a resident permit.
“The decision I have made is to close the range for public use, effective December 31st, 2018,” said Bernard.
Police training at the range will continue and will be covered by the city’s insurance. Bernard, who said he expected the move to be criticized, said that range users would be sent a city communication Wednesday. Councilor Jason LaForest, a member of the public safety committee, pressed him.
"How could the insurance carrier not know that we have a gun range of 60 plus years in the city?” asked LaForest.
“It was never listed in our property list,” responded the Mayor.
Bernard estimated that it would take a yearly parking fee of $100 or $150 based on the approximately 60 annual range users to cover the range with private insurance – a cost of between $6,000 and $7,500 to the city.
“We seem to be able to spend an awful lot of money," said LaForest. "There’s re-appropriation of $700,000 on the table tonight, there’s request for hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent for various purposes, and we’re closing a very popular gun range – not popular for everyone – a very popular gun range for the tune of $7,500 and I think that’s a real shame and I’m shocked that this was not made public or available to council sooner.”
“I would have liked to known about this a lot sooner rather than having this sprung on us tonight," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. “Councilor Lamb led committee after committee after committee trying to work things out with everybody that was involved and now within – I got mine three minutes before the council meeting started – all of a sudden, it’s a dead issue. There’s going to be some very unhappy people.”
Councilor Ben Lamb, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said he was disappointed with the mayor’s decision to close the range and that the move does not reflect the tenor of the committee or its public meetings.
“We were not planning on making any chances from the committee perspective whatsoever,” said Lamb.
Many city residents at Tuesday’s meeting supported exploring ways to keep the range open, but Robert Smith backed the mayor’s decision to close it.
“How many are actually using this facility?" asked Smith. "Is it really worth getting involved with spending extra money for private insurance company to maintain it for a small segment of this community?”
While the council could not act on the mayor’s decision to close the range, further discussion was postponed until the council’s second meeting in September in an effort to keep the conversation around preserving the range alive.