Monadnock Rod and Gun Club suing Peterborough over proposed gun range

·3 min read

Jun. 28—PETERBOROUGH — As the Monadnock Rod and Gun Club seeks to build a new shooting range on its Jaffrey Road property, the nonprofit is suing the town over decisions that have blocked the project.

The club, which has been in operation since the 1940s, brought a civil complaint against the town in Hillsborough Superior Court North on April 26. The lawsuit contests a zoning ordinance the town passed in 2019 banning outdoor shooting ranges, as well as subsequent rulings by Peterborough's code enforcement officer and zoning board of adjustment.

Tim Herlihy, Peterborough's code enforcement officer and zoning administrator, ruled Nov. 3 that the club's proposal — which would replace an existing range that hasn't been active since 2018 — cannot be "grandfathered" into prior privileges for shooting on that site.

In Herlihy's administrative decision, he said because the existing range had been moved without town approval from its original east-west orientation to face north, the club lost its permission for an east-west range. Therefore, the new range requires a special exception under town zoning, according to Herlihy.

The gun club appealed the administrative decision to the zoning board of adjustment, which meeting minutes indicate rejected the appeal on Feb. 7, agreeing with Herlihy that the change in orientation means the gun range is not exempt from the 2019 ban.

Kelly Dowd, a Keene-based lawyer representing the gun club, wrote in the lawsuit that the change in orientation of the gun range does not constitute "a change in use." Therefore the proposed gun range should be grandfathered into the pre-2019 regulations, Dowd said. He also noted that there is no permit required to change the direction of shooting.

"While an 'outdoor shooting range' became a nonconforming use after May 14, 2019, it was a permitted use prior to that date, regardless of any modification in the direction of fire," he wrote in the complaint.

The club has sought the new range to help resolve a host of legal and financial problems, President Ken Caisse told The Sentinel last October.

Caisse did not return an emailed request for comment Monday afternoon. The Monadnock Rod and Gun Club nor Dowd returned phone requests for comments.

The range, which would have targets at four distances and would be designed to reduce environmental impact, is meant to help boost the gun club's declining membership, Caisse said at the time. Additional membership revenue is needed to resolve legal and financial problems, which include nearly $650,000 the club owes abutters after a judge ruled in 2020 the club had unlawfully encroached on their property, he said.

Dowd wrote in the lawsuit against Peterborough, "It is undisputed by all that the location has always been used as an outdoor shooting range since the 1940's, and there is no evidence to suggest that use has changed, despite the expansion on the neighboring property."

In addition to asking the court to reverse the zoning board of adjustment's decision and administrative decision, the lawsuit contends that the town's ordinance banning outdoor shooting ranges is illegal.

Citing language in a state law that allows municipalities to regulate "firearm businesses ... in the same manner as other businesses," Dowd argues that the gun club is a nonprofit, and not a business, and therefore that law does not allow zoning powers to regulate it.

Moreover, he argues, even if the gun club can be considered a "firearm business," Peterborough's ordinance does not regulate such businesses "in the same manner as other businesses," because it bans outdoor shooting ranges in a discriminatory fashion.

Peterborough filed an answer to the complaint on June 3, denying many of the claims made by the gun club. A lawyer representing the town of Peterborough declined to comment.

Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or rspencer@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rspencerKS