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Man polls Lexington Town Meeting on proposed weapons ban

Robert Rotberg discussed his proposed ban of some weapons at last week’s selectmen’s meeting in Lexington.

John Blanding/Globe Staff

Robert Rotberg discussed his proposed ban of some weapons at last week’s selectmen’s meeting in Lexington.

The Lexington man who has proposed changing town laws to ban certain types of semi-automatic weapons has reached out to Town Meeting members for their opinions before deciding with supporters how to move forward.

In a letter to Town Meeting members sent late last week, Robert Rotberg, himself a Town Meeting member, spelled out three options.

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First, he wrote, “Do we as a body want to defy the gun lobby and pass a ban against assault weapons in Lexington?”

Or, he continued, would Town Meeting members prefer moving forward with a nonbinding “modest resolution to the Legislature that could accomplish less than an outright ban.”

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The third option would be for the proposal to be indefinitely postponed while residents have an “intensive” townwide conversation about guns.

“I am hopeful that I will have sufficient replies within a few days to constitute a meaningful opinion poll,” Rotberg, the founding director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict and president emeritus of the World Peace Foundation, said Sunday night. “Then we will be able to decide what to do.”

Rotberg said he will share the results of the Town Meeting member poll with supporters and hopes to have a decision by mid-week whether there is support for a vote on the proposed bylaw, which would ban the sale, manufacture, or possession of “assault weapons and high capacity magazines” in town. A discussion and vote by Town Meeting on the ban is now scheduled for April 6.

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Gun owners and advocates from Lexington and across the state went before the Board of Selectmen last week to strongly make their case against any measures that would whittle away their rights.

Many of the approximately 30 who spoke in opposition to the proposal mentioned Lexington’s history at the dawn of the American Revolution, saying the community that has a statue of an armed Minute Man on its town green should not be the place leading the charge to toughen weapons laws.

But Rotberg said the law would not take all guns out of the hands of properly licensed gun owners in Lexington but would prohibit the types of weapons used in the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif.

Rotberg’s proposal follows a federal court decision in which a Chicago suburb’s ban on certain kinds of semi-automatic weapons was upheld. In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that a 2013 ordinance enacted by Highland Park does not violate the Second Amendment, saying municipalities ought to have leeway in deciding how to regulate firearms. The US Supreme Court in December refused to hear a challenge to the ban.

But a local bylaw in Lexington would still need approval from the office of state Attorney General Maura Healey.

And according to a memo to the Board of Selectmen from the town’s legal firm, Anderson & Kreiger LLP, while the ban would likely be permissible under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, it would “likely be disapproved by the attorney general or by a court as preempted by the comprehensive Firearms Act,” the state gun control law.

In addition, the memo concludes, the proposed bylaw would almost certainly result in a costly legal challenge.

“Beyond the strictly legal issues raised by the proposed bylaw, this suggested ban has already generated a large amount of attention from gun advocates. If passed and approved by the attorney general, the bylaw is almost certain to generate significant litigation,” according to the memo.

In addition to the cost of potentially having to defend the bylaw, a simple Town Meeting discussion and vote will cost money because of the increased security the police say will be necessary for the expected large, emotional crowd.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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