A brief discussion during a meeting last week of the Swampscott Board of Selectmen has sparked outrage among gun-rights proponents and turned one selectman into the target of vitriolic e-mails, threatening phone calls, and online petitions from across the nation calling for his resignation.
Under Massachusetts law, gun owners are required to keep their weapons stored in a locked container or locked in some other way. During the selectmen’s discussion last week, Selectman Barry Greenfield asked the town’s legal counsel to provide an opinion on whether that provision could be locally enforced.
“We need the ability to enforce the state law,” Greenfield said, according to Patch’s coverage of the meeting on Nov. 6, before asking if police in Swampscott, a town of about 14,000 people on the North Shore, would have the authority to inspect gun storage. Would it be legal, Greenfield asked, for police to make sure gun owners are complying with those standards?
The Board of Selectmen soon moved onto other topics, tabling the weapons discussion until town counsel can provide an opinion, but the talk surrounding Greenfield’s questions was far from finished.
Several gun-rights blogs picked up on Greenfield’s comments and launched an impassioned crusade against him.
In the past week, he has become the target of online petitions calling for him to resign from his selectman’s position. He said he has also received hundreds of phone calls and thousands of e-mails, many of them threatening, from across the country.
“I never suggested that anyone would have access to someone’s home without due process,” Greenfield said in an interview with the Globe on Tuesday. “People took what I said and spun it to say: This selectman wants to invade your home and steal your guns. I simply asked the question.
“I’ve got two kids in public schools; I’m just trying to protect them. What’s the point of having a law if you’re not allowed to enforce it?”
Much of the online stir accuses Greenfield of advocating searches of the homes of gun owners, a charge he insists is inaccurate.
“If he gets his way, Greenfield will then presumably make a proposal to allow the heavily-armed police teams that burst into citizen’s homes to move in if they like what they find,” Bill Owens wrote in a post for BearingArms.com. “He’s fine with trashing the 2d and 4th Amendments, so he may as well do so with the 3d Amendment as well, right?”
Another blog carried the headline, “Massachusetts Town Wants to Raid Homes for Legal Firearms.”
Many blogs also posted contact information for Greenfield, and soon hundreds were calling and e-mailing him to voice their outrage. He said his phone has rung every two to three minutes daily.
“I’m a volunteer elected official,” Greenfield wrote in a response to one of the blog posts. “I’m trying to do what I can to prevent Sandy Hook happening in my town. And, for that, I get threats to my family and home and person. Not necessary. Whatever happened to civil discourse?”
As the town’s legal counsel works to prepare a formal response, local gun groups have insisted that any enforcement of the state gun storage standards would be a violation of constitutional rights.
“We are shocked and alarmed that any elected official would even consider such an idea, let alone bring it up for serious consideration before an elected body,” Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, a Massachusetts-based gun rights advocacy group, said in a statement. “If the Board of Selectman is serious about being proactive regarding the safe storage and handling of firearms, they could sponsor some safety courses.”
Officials in Swampscott are continuing to look into whether it would be possible to ensure local compliance with the state’s gun storage law, but Police Chief Ron Madigan said Tuesday that he does not think so.
For his part, Greenfield said that his chief concern is keeping his family safe.
“Sadly, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t bring this up again, I wouldn’t ask the question,” Greenfield said.Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.