LEXINGTON — Gun rights advocates spoke out Tuesday night against a proposal to ban certain types of semi-automatic weapons in Lexington, calling it an affront to the very principles on which their town and the nation were founded.
“The birthplace of American liberty is not going to be its gravesite,” said Michael Barg, a lifelong resident of Lexington. “This will accomplish nothing other than to glorify the proponents’ phony dogma and misinformed political ideals.”
Barg was one of about 150 gun rights advocates, including many from as far away as Lowell and Ashburnham, who appeared before the Board of Selectmen in opposition to a citizen’s petition that would create a town bylaw prohibiting the manufacture, sale, ownership, or possession of specific weapons in town.
That proposal was filed by town resident Robert Rotberg, the founding director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict and president emeritus of the World Peace Foundation.
“It is time as citizens, and citizens of Lexington, that we attempt to remove assault weapons from the inventory of town residents,” Rotberg said in front of the overwhelmingly pro-gun crowd of mostly men.
The night started with a discussion between Rotberg and the Board of Selectmen about a possible compromise that would scrap the proposed bylaw in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling on state legislators to strengthen the state’s gun laws. The resolution would also call on other communities to urge similar action.
Rotberg told selectmen he was prepared to withdraw his proposed bylaw in favor of the resolution, if he had support from selectmen for the measure.
That support didn’t come.
While board Chairman Joseph N. Pato said he was not ready to “endorse or condemn” the resolution, three other members had made up their minds.
“I’m not in any way supporting it. In my way of thinking it is not in the spirit of Lexington, not the Lexington I know.” Selectman Peter C.J. Kelley said.
Selectmen Michelle L. Ciccolo and Suzanne E. Barry also refused to endorse the resolution.
“I have certainly heard from a lot of constituents that they would like to have a conversation about the violence in our society, but I’m not convinced that a specific resolution is the right way to do it,” Ciccolo said.
Earlier, selectmen had unanimously voiced opposition to Rotberg’s proposed bylaw, as had Police Chief Mark Corr.
“This bylaw is not enforceable, and I ask you not to put me in a position to have to try,” he said.
“I do not want to see the irony that a law intended to save a life may actually cost a life trying to enforce it,” Corr said to a standing ovation from the crowd.
Rotberg said after the meeting that without support for a resolution from selectmen, he is considering how to proceed, and still may move forward to Town Meeting on April 6 with the bylaw, which he said has the support of many Town Meeting members.
Rotberg said the proposed bylaw would “ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines,” and prohibit a list of specific weapons, including those used in mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and more recently in San Bernardino, Calif.
“Banning assault weapons does not infringe on the rights to own a gun in Lexington, only on the right to own a weapon capable of many killings more suitable to a war zone than to the defense of a Lexington home,” he said.
While Rotberg is considering the two options, those in attendance clearly want both off the table.
Only two of the approximately 30 speakers Tuesday night favored the proposed ban. The others emphasized their constitutional rights to own firearms, invoked the history of Lexington’s Minutemen at the dawn of the American revolution, and questioned why mental health issues are not being examined as a cause of gun violence rather than gun ownership.
“It’s my private property they want to seize and destroy,” Brian Linehan said before the meeting. The 30-year Lexington resident said this is the first issue that has ever brought him to a selectmen’s meeting.
“Our town logo is Captain John Parker holding a rifle. A picture of that statue is used by gun rights groups all across the country. It’s very near and dear to my heart because it’s my constitutional right to own these firearms,” he said.
Frank Greco, a veteran of the first Gulf War, said he needed to own guns so he could keep up his marksmanship skills while spending 22 years in the Naval reserves.
“There is evil in the world, but you don’t need a gun to carry it out, all you need is a pressure cooker,” he said.
“One group of residents is forcing their views on their law-abiding neighbors. This is pitting neighbor against neighbor,” said Kenny Jenness, who has raised nine children in a Lexington home that has been in his wife’s family for four generations. “For the first time in my life I’m embarrassed to be from Lexington.”
But Cornelia Johnson said that while her head tells her that the Second Amendment of the Constitution should be respected, her heart tells her something different.
“I weep with the mothers and the grandmothers of this nation,” she said, supporting Rotberg’s proposed bylaw.
“I appeal to your conscience, to your heart,” she said.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.