NORTH ADAMS — One late afternoon this August, Ricco Fruscio was doing a puzzle on his porch when he was startled by a loud noise.
“We heard bang, bang, bang,” he said. He and others called the police, reporting gunfire near Brickyard Court and Notch Road. When another person called, the police report notes, the officer could hear shooting in the background.
“It was disturbing,” Fruscio said, remembering thinking, “Oh, there’s a machine gun in our neighborhood.”
He lives well over a mile from the rifle range in the city, and he said the noise was coming from somewhere much closer.
Police officers were not able to determine where the noise was coming from, according to their report.
This does not appear to be an isolated incident. At a City Council meeting last week, Councilor Ben Lamb said he has heard from a number of residents over the past year about gunfire in the west end.
“Most of the pandemic, it’s been an issue over in the west end,” he told The Eagle.
Last fall, Lamb heard from people in the neighborhood about the problem that he also experienced. He heard rapid gunfire from his home on Marion Avenue.
“I remember my son telling me he was afraid to go outside because of gunfire. Hearing that from my 3-year-old,” he said, “that hit close to home.”
He added: “The sound can be scary. Especially for a child to hear that and to know what it is and to be afraid of it. That certainly inspired my personal concerns. It was also echoed by folks that reached out who said, ‘I’m tired of this; I’m looking at moving. Because I can’t deal with this if it’s going to be nonstop.’ ... I understood.”
For a while, the issue seemed to subside, until Lamb started getting complaints more recently that it was flaring up in an area near Notch Road. The issue is not the gun range, Lamb said at the City Council meeting.
“I do appreciate that we have a location in the city that is safe and used by responsible gun owners 99.9 percent of the time,” he said.
He pointed to a city ordinance as part of the problem. It reads: “No person shall discharge any gun, pistol or other firearm within the settled section of the city, provided that this section shall not apply to the use of such weapons in the lawful defense of the person, family or property or in the performance of any duty required by law, nor to the firing of a salute or cannon or artillery by permission of the City Manager, nor to public or private shooting galleries which have been inspected and approved by the Chief of Police.”
The trouble: What does “settled” mean?
“It’s kind of this loose phrasing that could be interpreted however someone wants to interpret it,” Lamb said. “That is an issue. It creates an unenforceable ordinance.” City Councilors referred the discussion to the Public Safety Subcommittee.
Police Chief Jason Wood told The Eagle that the Police Department treats the reports of gunfire as noise complaints. Most times, like in the case Fruscio reported, they can’t find the people shooting, he said.
“For our officers, they are just looking for noise disturbances,” he said. “A noise disturbance is a noise disturbance.” Not long after Fruscio reported the incident in his area, the noise stopped, Wood said.
Last year, his department thought the shooting was coming from the Massachusetts Avenue side of the city’s west end, and it tried to pinpoint a more precise area, but “we really didn’t get anywhere,” Wood said.
A complicating factor is that sound can bounce around in the valley, he said. “Kind of the little bowl we live in, it echoes all over.”
After reporting to the police, Fruscio said he doesn’t know what happened.
“I didn’t go looking for the people who were shooting the gun,” he said with a laugh. “I wanted to leave them alone.”