WEST WARWICK — Before a packed council chambers, West Warwick this week became the 10th Rhode Island town to officially declare its support of the Second Amendment of the U.S Constitution.
“This is just saying that we support the Second Amendment,” Town Council President David Gosselin Jr. said Tuesday, shortly before the council’s unanimous vote to approve a resolution affirming the town’s support of the Second Amendment. “That’s all this is saying, and I’m kind of in support of it.”
While it’s not legally binding, the resolution is intended to “send a message” to the governor and members of the General Assembly. Alluding to the nationwide “sanctuary city” movement that opposes harsh immigration policies by the federal government, the Second Amendment sanctuary movement pledges to oppose any new law that could infringe upon the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.
Burrillville in April became the first Rhode Island town to declare itself a sanctuary, and nine other towns, including Coventry, have since adopted similar resolutions.
Unlike many of the other resolutions, however, the one adopted in West Warwick doesn’t name the town a “sanctuary” for the Second Amendment. The town council was presented with two nearly identical resolutions, differing only in that one, if adopted, would name the town a “sanctuary,” and the other would simply affirm the town’s support of the Second Amendment.
The council chambers was painted yellow Tuesday, as gun rights advocates donning their signature T-shirts sat in anticipation.
West Warwick resident Dave Lombari told councilors that the hope by passing the symbolic resolution is to “send a message.”
“We just want to send a message to the Statehouse to say, ‘knock off the crap going after the Second Amendment guys,” said Lombari, who’s been outspoken in his support of the sanctuary movement. “The Second Amendment guys are not the guys out there causing problems.”
Lombari argued that the problems are, in fact, being caused by “bad guys with multiple infractions” who’ve obtained their firearms illegally.
“We’ve passed all our background checks,” he continued, looking back toward a crowd of his fellow supporters. “We’re not after this town to become lawless, everybody running around with a gun up and down Arctic.”
Resident Rhiannon Moore echoed some of Lombari’s comments.
“‘The right to bear arms shall not be infringed’ means something to my family, who’s a military family,” she said, urging the town council to pass the resolution “just to show the state that we do actually care.”
Mixed into the sea of yellow Tuesday were a handful of red T-shirts, worn by advocates for common sense gun legislation.
“This resolution does not represent me or my voice as one of your constituents,” Erika Lebrun told councilors, as she took the podium to share her reasons for objecting.
In response to arguments by Second Amendment sanctuary supporters that claim many of the newly proposed state gun laws are unconstitutional, Lebrun pointed to the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller.
The landmark case, which affirmed the right of citizens to lawfully possess firearms outside of the militia, is included in West Warwick’s adopted resolution as a whereas clause.
“Beyond what is written in the resolution, the state said the right to bear arms was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Lebrun said, adding that the laws passed by the General Assembly undergo careful vetting to ensure they’re “constitutionally sound.”
Lebrun added that she’s not opposed to the Second Amendment, and that she believes gun ownership can coexist with common sense gun laws.
Councilor Maribeth Williamson said that, despite the overwhelming number of supporters in attendance, she’s received numerous communications from constituents, and that they’ve been divided.
“I, personally, do support the Second Amendment. There’s no doubt about that,” she said.
But as the council mulled whether to name the town a Second Amendment “sanctuary,” Williamson said she didn’t feel comfortable going that far.
Town Council Vice President John D’Amico shared a similar sentiment.
“I obviously support the Second Amendment,” D’Amico said. “But going back to the language of ‘sanctuary city,’ I just don’t know what it fully encompasses.”
Councilor Jason Licciardi also spoke in favor of adopting the resolution supporting the Second Amendment, but not the one declaring West Warwick a sanctuary town.
“In anything you talk about, it’s not the responsible people that cause things,” he added. “It’s when somebody abuses the system… everybody has to pay for it. And I think if you took guns away, those that want to get a gun will go and get a gun.”
Licciardi added that he wanted to ensure that adopting the resolution wouldn’t affect the police department.
Gosselin and Councilor Jason Messier shared that concern.
Lombari told councilors that the resolution’s intention is not to impede the ability of the police department to carry out its duties.
“We in no way want the police officers to not enforce the law,” Lombari said. “When a state law goes into effect, it’s law. The police have to do what they have to do to enforce that law.”
Mark Knott, chief of the West Warwick Police Department, spoke favorably of the resolution, but added that his preference was for the resolution affirming support for the Second Amendment without naming the town a “sanctuary.”
“My opinion as a citizen, not as the head of a law enforcement agency, is… ‘sanctuary city’ sort of goes to an impression of extremism,” he said. “I don’t like going to extremes. I prefer middle of the road.”
Knott added, however, that there was language in the resolution that concerned him. First, he said he worried about how a line stating that the town supports police using “sound discretion” when enforcing laws that impact one’s Second Amendment rights may be construed.
“The forum for debate on firearms legislation is with our state legislators,” Knott said. “Once the law is passed, I expect my officers to follow the law.”
Another part of the resolution that worried Knott, he said, was the line stating the town will not appropriate funds for building storage systems to keep seized weapons.
Knott said there are already plans in the works to enhance the efficiency and security of the department’s evidence storage system using funds from this and next year’s budget.
“General evidence, drug evidence, firearm evidence, and also the safety and security of our department-owned firearms,” he said. “Right now I don’t have the space for it, I don’t feel comfortable dealing with what we have on hand, which is why it’s an important issue to me.”
The town council chose before adopting the resolution to tweak the language, removing the part stating funds would not be appropriated for building storage space. Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson said the town could address that at a future time
“Because [the resolution] is speculative in nature, it should be without that,” he said.