Small town politics move fast – at least that’s what the Townshend Selectboard in Vermont discovered when they attempted to place a ban on firearms in town-owned buildings in mid-July.
The ban had originally come about after the Selectboard’s Vice Chairman Kit Martin proposed the idea following some complaints that some citizens felt “intimidated by firearms in the building,” according to the Battleboro Reformer. The measure, as it was finally adopted, applied to every town building including the office, highway garage, library and fire station. Only “authorized law-enforcement officers” were not affected.
The speed with which the ordinance was passed, and with hardly any input from the community, shocked many. Despite the shootings in Aurora and Wisconsin occurring during its brief lifespan, the ban came under immediate, withering fire from Townshend citizens. Townshend is home to only about 1,200 residents, and in a place where everyone seems to know everyone else, the voices of exasperated gun-owners found their way to receptive ears. Letters poured in to the Reformer, a homegrown petition to end the ban began to rack up signatures, and the town’s own attorney eventually had to politely inform the Selectboard that they were in violation of state law.
Vermont has some of the most open firearm laws in the nation, and no permit is required to purchased rifles or handguns, firearms do not need to be registered, and citizens may open or concealed carry without a permit. More importantly, the state’s firearm laws preempt local restrictions – restrictions just like the one in Townshend. It’s hardly surprising that in a state with such strong Second Amendment protections that a ban would be met with fierce resistance before it even had a chance to be struck down.
Three weeks after the ban took effect, the Selectboard held another meeting and rescinded the policy unanimously as their first order of business. Kit Martin apologized, saying, “We as a board made a mistake.” Chairwoman Hedy Harris remarked before their vote, “It seems clear that the only exceptions to the constitutional right to bear arms are schools and courthouses, and we are neither one of those.”
Of course, this didn’t stop town residents from giving them an earful. Dan Brown, a business owner in Townshend, wondered why the town couldn’t have just had a reasonable conversation with someone who was intimidated by firearms without making a knee-jerk ordinance. He said, “The town didn’t do it right,” and “Nobody had a problem before. That to me is against our constitutional rights.” Ed Cutler of Gun Owners of Vermont, who was also at the meeting, stated:
When you came up with that ordinance, you took away the self defense of everybody in this town [...] When people in general carry firearms, it prevents violence, because you just don’t know who is armed. When there is a large armed population, it keeps the violence down. Firearms are not dangerous, but a lack of firearms are. We’ve been brainwashed by the media and cowboy movies.
Joe Novick, the town’s first constable, frequently used to open carry his firearm into town meetings, though he never really thought about it, saying he never meant to intimidate anyone. There is speculation that it was originally his firearm that was the source of “intimidation.” His response to the mess? If the Selectboard had simply politely asked him if he could leave his gun at home, they might never have had to start a controversy.
In his words: “I hope that maybe we can learn from this. An ordinance doesn’t necessarily make it better.”
Image is in the public domain