Lexington gun proposal called an affront to liberty

LEXINGTON — Gun rights advocates spoke out last week against a proposal to ban certain types of semiautomatic weapons in Lexington, calling it an affront to the very principles on which the 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 Tuesday night 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 the board’s chairman, Joseph N. Pato, said he was not ready to “endorse or condemn” the resolution, three other selectmen 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.


Selectwomen 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,” Corr 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,” the chief 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 may still move forward to Town Meeting on April 6 with the bylaw.

“Many Town Meeting members and many citizens still want to move forward with the bylaw, not wanting to be intimidated by the gun lobby,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

Lexington wouldn’t be the first community to consider enacting its own gun laws.

Last year, a federal appeals court upheld a Chicago suburb’s ban on assault weapons. In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the 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 ordinance.


Rotberg said he decided to pursue the bylaw in Lexington now because it was a “golden opportunity’’ on the heels of that decision.

“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, most at the meeting clearly wanted both off the table.

Only two of the approximately 30 speakers Tuesday night supported Rotberg’s proposal. The rest emphasized their constitutional right 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.

“I’ve been coming to Lexington with my dad every Patriots Day since I was 6 years old,” said Jeff Roy, an Army veteran from Ashburnham. “This is an embarrassment; this is horrible.”

Frank Greco, a veteran of the first Gulf War and Lexington resident, said he needed to own guns so he could keep up his marksmanship skills while spending 22 years in the Navy Reserve. “There is evil in the world, but you don’t need a gun to carry it out,” he said. “All you need is a pressure cooker.”


“One group of residents is forcing their views on their law-abiding neighbors. This is pitting neighbor against neighbor,” said Kenny Jenness . Noting that he has raised nine children in a Lexington home that has been in his wife’s family for four generations, he said, “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 should be respected, her heart tells her something different.

“I weep with the mothers and the grandmothers of this nation,” she said in support of the bylaw. “I appeal to your conscience, to your heart.”

Globe correspondent Jennifer Fenn Lefferts contributed to this report. Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.