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The Boston Globe


Four R.I. town councilors face recall vote over gun issue

PROVIDENCE — Exeter voters will soon decide whether to remove four Town Council members over a proposed tweak to the way gun permits are issued, though the outcome may not resolve the debate.

Supporters of the push to oust the council members may call for a second recall election if one or more of the town officials survives Saturday’s vote, said Lance Edwards, an Exeter resident and a leading recall supporter.

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‘‘If they do survive this, we’re considering recalling them again, on ethics violations,’’ Edwards said in an interview. ‘‘I would see no reason, even if one of them made it, not to recall this person, not because it’s a gun issue, but because they didn’t listen to the residents of Exeter.’’

The officials facing recall are spending the days before the election reminding their supporters about the election. Councilman Cal Ellis said some townspeople are not even aware of the underlying debate, and he worries that turnout will be low. Snow is forecast for Saturday.

‘‘This isn’t about semiautomatics or anything like that,’’ he said. ‘‘But in this case there are folks who did not like a vote we took and they want us removed. And we only asked the Legislature to make a change.’’

The four council members angered gun rights supporters when they supported a resolution asking the state’s General Assembly to allow the state attorney general to process concealed weapons permits. Under current law, those seeking a permit may apply to either the attorney general or their local police. Since Exeter does not have a police department, just a single town sergeant, the job now falls to the town clerk, who the council members said lacks the resources to conduct proper background checks.

Even though the council’s request never got a vote in the General Assembly, gun rights supporters began petitioning for a recall, saying the town’s leaders had ignored the concerns of hundreds of people who turned out for a meeting on the proposal.

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Debates about gun policy have sparked similar ouster efforts elsewhere. Last month, two Democratic Colorado state senators were recalled over their support for changes to gun laws in that state following the theater massacre outside Denver in 2012.

One of the former Colorado state senators, Angela Giron, is watching the Exeter election closely. She said she worries that recall elections could become a common tactic by gun rights supporters looking to oust elected officials who are considering changes to gun laws.

‘‘They recognize that they can’t win in a regular election when everyone is voting, but an obscure election right before Christmas, maybe,’’ she said. ‘‘I guess if I were on their side, I’d say, ‘This is what works.’ ’’

Nineteen states allow for the recall of state officials, and more than half of all states permit the recall of local officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Exeter’s recall election, coincidentally coming on the anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, is expected to cost about $6,000 or $7,000. The town plans to open three polling places.

The four officials being targeted by the recall effort are Council President Arlene Hicks and Councilors Ellis, Robert Johnson, and William Monahan. All are Democrats. A fifth member is not up for recall: Councilor Raymond Morrissey Jr., an independent who voted against the resolution.

If the four council members are recalled, their seats would be filled by three candidates who lost the last council election. The fourth seat would be filled by a council appointment.

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