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Westford

Gun-ban proposal is tabled, for now

A proposed weapons ban was removed from the warrant for the upcoming Town Meeting in Westford at a packed meeting Wednesday evening, but the chief architect of the measure remains hopeful that his town will continue the discussion.

Robert S. Jefferies, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, would like the five-member board to convene a study committee to further examine gun control in town.

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Ideally, Jefferies said, the committee would consist of a diverse group of residents with differing points of view on the subject, from gun owners to members of antiviolence groups, “to find consensus on what the town should do.”

The idea may have some support. A citizens’ petition, submitted to the town Feb. 12, sought to require the Board of Selectmen to convene a study committee if there are any changes proposed to Westford’s bylaws that would restrict a person’s constitutional rights under the Second Amendment, which protects a citizen’s right to own and carry firearms.

Jefferies said he would like the selectmen to form such a committee once Town Meeting, scheduled to begin March 23, is over.

Jefferies had originally proposed in December that the town work with the police chief to draft a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, just four days after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

On Wednesday, Jefferies made the motion to withdraw the warrant article, and selectmen voted 5-0 in agreement. The decision triggered thunderous applause. During the brief meeting, selectmen also declined to reopen the warrant for several other articles, including the citizens’ petition that called for a study committee.

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In a telephone interview immediately following the meeting, Jefferies said he made the motion because the proposal had had “unintended consequences,” turning what he had hoped would be a community conversation about gun violence into a national debate.

“It had gotten too big,” said Jefferies. “Half of my e-mails were from out of town and out of state. What should have been a discussion within the town had become nationalized. I thought it best to withdraw the article and let things cool off.”

The Westford proposal would have required residents to remove any banned weapons from town or surrender them to the police chief within 90 days of the bylaw’s effective date. The measure also would have prohibited the sale or transfer of firearms within the town. Penalties in the draft called for fines ranging from $100 to $300 per violation, per day.

According to the state attorney general’s office, which reviews all new or revised bylaws, no other town in the Commonwealth has tried to adopt such a ban.

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.

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