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EXETER – A resolution to make the Town of Exeter a Second Amendment sanctuary failed to pass on Monday, with four members of the town council staying silent after a motion was made for a vote to be taken. 

The resolution was put forward for consideration following Rhode Island State Senator Elaine Morgan’s request that the towns she represents–including Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond and West Greenwich–declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. 

In her letter, Morgan outlined why she was asking the four towns to enact a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, stating that the legislation would ensure that any future gun-control laws that “infringe upon the constitutional right to keep and bear arms” would not be enforced.

Morgan requested that they consider taking up a resolution that would give towns the opportunity to maintain their “freedom and constitutional rights” by “enforcing legislation currently on the books.” 

“I swore an oath when taking office to protect and uphold our Constitution from any infringements. It is with substantial consideration that I bring forth this matter of discussion based on stabilizing our jurisdictions’ ability to uphold and defend our Second Amendment rights,” Morgan wrote. “An abundance of states, counties, cities and towns across the United States have declared themselves ‘Second Amendment Sanctuaries,’ which means any gun-control laws that infringe upon the constitutional right to keep and bear arms will not be enforced.”

The resolution that was proposed to the Exeter Town Council on Monday was similar to those of other towns, with one difference being the lack of language declaring the local police department’s right to “exercise sound discretion when enforcing laws impacting the rights of citizens under the Second Amendment”–due to the fact that Exeter does not have its own police department and that state police covers the town. 

But, like the other resolutions, it contained language generally supporting the Second Amendment, which “protects Exeter Citizens’ inalienable and individual right to keep and bear arms.” It also stated that the town council would support laws of the state of Rhode Island that “are not deemed unconstitutional.”

The proposed resolution further stated that the town would not appropriate funds for the construction of building space to store weapons seized under any future legislation enacted by the Rhode Island General Assembly that the town council deemed unconstitutional.

And though Hopkinton, Richmond and West Greenwich Town Councils approved of similar Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions, the Exeter Town Council stood in stark contrast, with its proposed resolution failing before any discussion among the council or a vote could be taken. 

However, before a motion was made, several Exeter residents, including two former council members, spoke in favor of enacting the resolution, calling it a “symbolic” gesture against what many considered to be an overreach on gun legislation at a state level. 

“It has been said that this is purely symbolic,” said former town councilor Frank Maher. “You’re right, it is symbolic. But it’s symbolic based of the fact that this part of the state, the western part of the state, should be standing behind this resolution based on the fact that it’s a metaphor that we’re sick and tired of following the urban law, paying for its expenses and allowing them to run us as a rural, suburban community.”

“When are we going to say no?” Maher continued. “Granted, it’s about firearms, but it’s also about our rights.”

Former council member Ray Morrissey, who served in the U.S. Army, also spoke in favor of the resolution, asking the town council to support people like himself who are “tired of being used as a fall guy in these tragic times.”

“I am a responsible gun owner. My firearm is used for sport and protection,” Morrissey said. “I am sick and tired of being singled out when an attack like Columbine, Sandy Hook or the recent incident at Virginia Beach takes place.”

Every resident who spoke on the issue at Monday’s meeting was in favor of the resolution. 

Following public comment, councilor Dan Patterson, who requested that the resolution be added to Monday’s meeting agenda, said that after Hopkinton initially approved of a similar resolution last month, he received several calls and emails requesting that the issue be discussed. 

“This came about when the town of Hopkinton did this about three weeks ago, the very next day there were a dozen emails and a dozen phone calls from Exeter residents who recommended this be put on the agenda,” he said.

He also echoed Maher’s sentiments that the resolution was a symbolic gesture against recently proposed statewide legislation, such as the “Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2019.” 

The assault weapons ban legislation, which was introduced in March, would prohibit the sale, purchase or possession of assault weapons, except in certain cases. 

For instance, the bill would allow a gun owner to lawfully keep an assault weapon in his or her possession if it had been purchased within one year of the effective date of the legislation, though the owner would have to pay a $25 fee per weapon and submit to a fingerprint-supported criminal background check.  

Patterson called this proposed bill–which has not moved forward in the Rhode Island House of Representatives– “unconstitutional.” 

“Some of the gun bills that have come out of the state house this year are unconstitutional,” he said. “Specifically, the assault weapons bill.”

But after Patterson made a motion to approve the resolution, the other four members of the council–including president Cal Ellis, Frank DiGregorio, Manny Andrews or Mike Conn–declined to second it, resulting in the resolution failing. 

Morgan, who was in attendance during part of Monday’s meeting, said the outcome was “disheartening,” particularly because Exeter doesn’t have its own police department.

“Exeter doesn’t have a police force and the Exeter residents are their first line of defense,” Morgan said after the resolution failed. “For them to do this against what the Exeter residents want, I think, come election time, it will make a difference. They couldn’t at least second it to see who takes a vote. So that was very disheartening.” 

“There was not one person [in the audience] who spoke against it,” she added.  

On Tuesday, Patterson said that, by not discussing or voting on the resolution at the meeting, the rest of the council “denied the citizens of Exeter a debate on this.” 

“The least they could do is discuss and debate the issue. They chose to snub the citizens of Exeter,” he said. “They didn’t have the backbone to do their duty as elected representatives of the people of Exeter, nor would they answer one individual who questioned why they did it.” 

On the other hand, DiGregorio explained that he did not second Patterson’s motion to approve the resolution because it “implied that Exeter would not comply with a legally promulgated Rhode Island regulatory statute as it relates to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.”

“Furthermore I believe that the foundation of the governance of this country, state and town is based on the “rule of law,’” DiGregorio added. 

Andrews echoed DiGregorio’s sentiments, adding that the resolution was “premature” because the state-level bills it was meant to symbolically stand against “may never get passed.” 

“As an elected official, I took an oath to enforce the laws of the State of Rhode Island,” he continued. “I do not have to like the law or agree with it, but I do have to enforce it once it is duly enacted by the Rhode Island Legislature.  I will never support any resolution that asks me to violate my oath as an elected official.”

And for his part, Ellis said that when other members of the council chose not to second Patterson’s motion, he decided that he would not move forward with discussion “out of respect for their concerns.” 

However, he did say that, had the council pursued the resolution for a vote, he would have recommended to “move away from a sanctuary town resolution to a resolution relating to Second Amendment rights.”

“Because, in my opinion, it was a general statement regarding those rights to possess guns and to own guns,” he said. 

He also said that the state-level legislation that was being proposed, like the assault weapons ban, showed no signs of moving forward, making a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution a “moot point.”

“I understand it’s a reaction to legislation that was proposed,” he said. “My understanding is that that legislation is not moving forward, so I saw it as somewhat of a moot point, though I understand people needed to express their concerns.”

“And those who are adamant supporters of the Second Amendment certainly have a right to do that,” he continued. “I’m not opposed to the Second Amendment, but I certainly do support gun safety and any legislation that might go that way.”

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