Residents divided on town’s gun resolution

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BURRILLVILLE – One councilor estimated that the ratio of town residents who support, versus those who oppose, the resolution passed in April declaring Burrillville a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” is 100 to 1.

And while public testimony Wednesday night definitely didn’t mirror that figure, it was clear that for many in Burrillville, protecting the right to gun ownership remains a high priority.

“I have seen what happens to individuals who have their rights taken away,” said Timothy Burdick, president of the Burrillville-based Wallum Lake Rod & Gun Club. “We’re here to protect the constitution of the United States.”

“I thank you for protecting citizens’ constitutional rights,” Burdick told the council.

But many also spoke in opposition to the resolution, passed unanimously by the board at their last meeting.  

The vote, which has gained national attention, states that the town will support the police department exercising “sound discretion” when enforcing laws impacting the rights of citizens under the second amendment, and will not “appropriate funds” for any legislation passed that infringes on residents’ right to keep and bear arms.

“In this community, I’m a minority. I’m a progressive Democrat,” said resident Betsy Alper, who asked to be heard on the board’s agenda regarding how the action could affect “community and commerce.”

Alper noted that it was not the resolution itself, but the divisive talk surrounding the decision, that was cause for concern.

“Two weeks ago it felt like the message to me was ‘you’re not welcomed here,'” said Alper. “My hope is that in this community we’re all on the same team.”

Alper pointed to a Washington Post article that stated the town “won’t enforce new laws they feel infringe on their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

“If I felt unwelcome sitting in this room two weeks ago, imagine being someone like me who is looking to move a business here,” she said.

The resolution, crafted by Councilor Donald Fox, was at least in part, a reaction to the effort by Gov. Gina Raimondo to tighten the state’s gun control laws. Fox noted it was also a statement regarding all legislation passed by the General Assembly that doesn’t reflect the best interest of rural towns, including unfunded mandates that cost the community money.

Fox read a statement to the crowd in attendance Wednesday night.

“Burrillville does not have a history of gun violence,” he said. “We refuse to become a pawn in the polarized debate about gun violence that has drawn outrageous half-truths from advocates on both sides. “

“We are not prohibiting our police department from enforcing the law,” he added.

Police Colonel Stephen Lynch told NRI NOW last week that the resolution will have no affect in how his department enforces the law.  

Alper was not alone in condemning the action, and several residents gave emotional accounts of how the conversation surrounding the decision – with terms like “progressive creep” – made them feel less than welcomed in their own community.  

“I support the second amendment. What really affected me was the divisive tone and words that were used,” said resident Jen Remere. “It became very apparent to me that I don’t belong in this town. That hurt.”

Paul Roselli, who has often stood before the council as a member of various advocacy groups including the Burrillville Land Trust, said he was testifying as a private citizen in opposition to the lack of “transparency, discourse and dissent,” surrounding the decision. 

“There was no discussion among the citizens of our town,” said Roselli. “There was no attempt to release the resolution beforehand for citizen review.”

“You could have waited,” said Roselli.

Former Town Council member Peggy Dudley condemned the action for different reasons.

“It’s totally meaningless,” said Dudley. “You have no power or authority to issue any of it.”

Frances Bisceglia pointed to the Colorado school shooting just this week that left one dead and eight wounded.

“Make no mistake: a gun’s purpose is to wound maim and kill living things,” said Bisceglia.

But Burdick was among dozens of club members and gun advocates on hand Wednesday night, donning yellow shirts and defending the right to safe use of firearms, while also commending councilors for their leadership in being the first board in the state to take a stand on the issue. Other communities across Rhode Island, including both Foster and Glocester, have plans to vote on similar resolutions, and the Hopkington Town Council passed one this week. 

“This is a sanctuary – an enshrining of a constitutional right – that the supreme court has validated dozens of times,” said resident Matthew Zanni. “In this matter, you’ve not only done what was correct, you’ve gotten others to follow your lead.”

Councilor Raymond Trinque pointed to the many organizations across the state working to pass more stringent gun laws.

“That’s exactly why we’re doing this,” said Trinque. “Rights in the constitution are not decided by a frivolous majority of people.” 

“I don’t have guns now, but I have the right to have a weapon if I want one,” Trinque added. “Rights have to be protected. All of our rights.”

Councilor Jeremy Bailey, one of only two Democrats on the seven-member council, estimated that out of the dozens of phone calls, emails, Facebook messages and texts he’s received, only 1 out of 100 has been in opposition to the action.

“If we had to vote on this resolution tonight, I would still vote in favor of it,” Bailey said. 

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