Jackalyn Schrader, a West Newton resident, was alone in her backyard shed when she first heard gunshots coming from her neighbor’s air rifle.
“I had no phone. I had no way to call 911. I didn’t know if it was gone,” Schrader said. “I ran back into the shed. I could not tell where the shots were coming from. I couldn’t tell directionally, and I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I had no idea—I was terrified.”
West Newton residents reported that neighbor Bruce McKee built a shooting range in his backyard and sometimes misfires his air rifle toward surrounding properties, as WBZ first reported on April 1.
Because current city ordinances do not classify McKee’s actions as grounds for an arrest, many residents have been in communication with Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s office and the Newton City Council to try to change the ordinances.
The city council spoke about the air rifle ordinances at an April 4 meeting. McKee’s neighbors did not know what to expect from the meeting but were hopeful, according to Schrader. She compiled all of the pictures she took of alleged pellet holes in her fence into a powerpoint presentation and emailed it to the city council the day of the meeting, which she said captivated the attention of the councilors.
“The first thing [the councilors] said in the meeting was ‘If you guys have not looked at your email, you guys need to do it before this comes up on the agenda tonight,’” Schrader said. “They couldn’t believe what they were seeing in the pictures that I had submitted.”
Schrader said the city councilors had already spoken to their legal team prior to the city council meeting in order to understand how they could amend the ordinances.
Air rifles—Non-powder discharge weapons—are not classified as firearms in Newton’s current ordinances and therefore cannot be regulated as guns are. Under Massachusetts state law, it’s illegal to discharge a firearm, rifle, or shotgun within 500 feet of a residence without the building owner or legal occupant’s consent. But no such law exists for air rifles, although it is illegal in Massachusetts to shoot an air rifle in or across any public streetway.
To address the issue, the city council brought Newton Police Chief John Carmichael forward at the meeting to speak to the risks of air rifles and how other Massachusetts municipalities regulate them.
Municipalities such as Medford, Peabody, Winthrop, and Somerville prohibit the discharge of any air gun within city limits with limited exceptions, according to Carmichael.
“Currently, federal law does not consider or regulate non-powder fire guns as firearms,” Carmichael said. “Recognizing that non-powder guns are dangerous, many municipalities post further restrictions on air guns.”
Ward 3 Councilor-at-Large Andrea Kelly said she and the other councilors hope to amend current ordinances to classify non-powder weapons as firearms. Carmichael said he hopes to increase fines for breaking the ordinances to $300 per violation and increase the fine as the amount of violations increase. The city council pushed the motion to a future docket at a future date.
Prior to the April 4 meeting, Schrader called the police in March after she said the neighbor shot through her back fence with his air rifle. Three police officers came to her house, but they concluded that the situation was out of their hands, she said.
“We started to begin to fear for our safety because there was a hole that was shot,” Schrader said. “The police tell me that I don’t have the pellet to prove that it was what punctured the fence. We can’t unequivocally prove it, but I know in my heart and soul that it was one of the shots from his air rifle.”
Unable to resolve the conflict with the police, Schrader signed a letter written by Timothy Techler, another Newton resident, addressed to Fuller’s office explaining the situation and asking for the city to act against McKee.
As McKee’s air rifle shooting continued, Techler urged all the neighbors to reach out to the Newton City Council, and Schrader’s husband, John Piselli, decided to write and send an email.
“John actually sent to every city councilor in Newton with his plea and with a copy of the police report that detailed the type of air gun it is [and] the specifics about that air gun—that it can kill a person [and] that it can kill a deer,” Schrader said. “So, the councilors heard us, and they created a docket number for us.”
The police have advised all the neighbors not to engage with McKee. McKee told WBZ that shooting the guns is a form of relaxation for him.
According to Schrader, the shooting causes anxiety for others.
“All I can think to myself is this is creating anxiety for all of your neighbors, but it’s calming for you,” said Schrader. “Why would you put somebody in an anxious or stressful situation like that if you’re using this to calm yourself and you’re doing nothing but raising our fears? That makes no sense.”
Kelly said at the meeting that she hopes the city council will work with Mckee’s neighbors to fully amend the city’s ordinances and prevent any further damage.
“There’s no need to wait for a tragedy before taking action,” she said.
McKee did not respond to two phone calls and an email from The Heights for comment.
Images Courtesy of Jackalyn Schrader