Warner gun range debate ‘not about guns’

  • A sign at the location for Dragonfly Holding LLC's future indoor gun range and retail store in Warner.

Monitor staff
Thursday, December 14, 2017

As Warner’s Zoning Board of Adjustment prepared to take up an ongoing discussion about whether to allow an indoor gun range and retail store, the acting chair wanted to make one thing clear.

The case has sparked philosophical debates on gun rights and gun usage, Janice Loz said Wednesday night. But that was not the purview of the board – theirs was only to determine whether the range should be regranted a special exception under Warner zoning ordinances.

It was a sentiment that was repeated by both abutter MadgeTech Inc. and Dragonfly Ranges LLC’s lawyers throughout the night.

“This isn’t a popularity contest,” said Mark Puffer, representing Dragonfly Ranges. “This is a zoning case. Walmart has seen overwhelming opposition in communities ... but has met the zoning requirements and gotten in.”

But as the board voted to continue the hearing for yet another month – the third time it has had to do so since the matter came before the board again in October – it’s clear the cultural debate around guns has steered public perception of the case and has played a role in town discussions since its beginning.

Frequently, MadgeTech lawyer Paul Alfano has brought up the range’s proximity to the technology company’s building, and has said the company’s employees are uncomfortable with the idea of a gun range next door. He said gunshots from the range would be audible despite soundproofing Dragonfly has said it will put in place, and that the range would prohibit the MadgeTech from expanding. Possibly, the allowance of the range would cause MadgeTech to move.

Last month, Alfano said guns are designed to kill and that allowing the gun range would be a “direct attack on this very important business in this town.”

That remark was brought up by Puffer.

“The abutters would like you to believe this case is different, and not view it as a zoning case,” he said.

Even the ZBA members have not gone untouched by the debate. Loz said after the October meeting – when she asked MadgeTech owner Norm Carlson whether he owned a gun and whether he believed guns are used only to kill, which shocked the audience – the board received letters asking some members of the board to resign.

“I want to assure the public I don’t have a stake in this case,” she said. “I don’t care if the gun range goes in or not; I only care that the property owner does or does not have the right to operate this kind of business on the property.”

But care is needed, Loz later said when discussing whether to continue the meeting.

“We can’t rush this through,” she said. “We need to get it right.”

The case has been going on for close to a year. The Warner ZBA first heard the case in March, and since then the proposal has been approved by the town’s planning board, only to be sent back to the ZBA when a Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruled the ZBA did not have the authority to grant a special exception because not all of the abutters were properly notified.

The range has inspired passionate defense and opposition from Warner and Hopkinton residents alike and hundreds of written public comments. Opponents have focused on the range’s impact on the town’s culture, potential environmental risks and whether having a range would invite danger. In particular, Hopkinton residents have spoken about concerns about the range’s 2-mile proximity to Hopkinton Middle High School.

The case even caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which explored whether recent mass shootings had an impact on the public’s perception of the range.

The article has been criticized by Dragonfly Ranges owner Eric Miller, who wrote on his company’s Facebook page, “The article misses the fundamental truth that firearm education and the act of a sociopath are completely unrelated.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)