By LEE J. KAHRS
PITTSFORD – Town Meeting in Pittsford should be well attended this year.
The select board here has doubled down on its support for a gun sanctuary resolution despite much public outcry, but has urged Pittsford residents to bring up the issue at the March 2 Town Meeting.
Before a packed house at the Feb. 5 select board meeting, four out of five select board members agreed to sign the resolution as a show of support. The move came after extensive discussion over whether to remove the last paragraph of the resolution as proposed. In the end, the four board members opted to sign the original resolution, which reads as follows:
“A resolution for the defense of the right to keep and bear arms.
The township hereby declares itself to be a Second Amendment and Article Sixteen, Constitutional Gun Owner township as defined herein – The town hereby recognizes the inalienable rights of all persons within its boundaries to keep and bear arms as described by both Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution and the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, including but not limited to:
The lawful use of firearms in defense of life, liberty and property and in defense of the State, from all enemies, foreign and domestic; the safe and responsible use of firearms for hunting and utilitarian purposes; and the safe and responsible use of firearms for sporting purposes including Olympic sports.
Furthermore, per Marbury v Madison 5 US 137 (1803), the township hereby declares all federal and state laws and regulations attempting to restrict these rights to be infringements, hence null and void under this resolution.”
To change or not to change
Pittsford Selectman Hank Pelkey opened the agenda item at the Feb. 5 meeting by making a motion to reconsider the previous vote by changing the petition and replacing the last paragraph with the following:
“We also support all the rights as guaranteed under the state and federal Constitutions.”
When an audience member asked why Pelkey felt the need to change the final paragraph, he said he made a mistake.
“My opinion is, we have expressed our support for the Second Amendment, and with the paragraph addition, we support all laws under both Constitutions,” Pelkey said. “I did vote on that and I wasn’t fully clear on what it meant, so I made a mistake in my opinion and I’m trying to rectify that tonight.”
The original resolution request came at the board’s regular meeting Jan. 22 from Florence resident Brian Wood, who asked the select board to approve a Town Meeting Day ballot resolution. The resolution is supported by the non profit Gun Owners of Vermont, who are protesting what they say is an assault on their Second Amendment rights by the Vermont legislature. In particular are two bills passed during the last legislative session – S.169, which requires a mandatory 24-hour waiting period on buying handguns, and S.55, which raised the age for long gun purchases to 21, mandates background checks for private firearm sales, bans magazines of bullets holding more than 15 rounds, and bans bump stocks.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, the board unanimously voted to support the resolution, but did not agree to put it on the Town Meeting Day ballot, and did not sign it. Pelkey made the point that the board historically does not put items on the ballot that are not germane to local town business.
Several other towns around Vermont have supported the resolution, including Holland and Chittenden, which approved the resolution without the last paragraph.
Since The Reporter first broke the story on Jan. 29, several Pittsford residents contacted board members with their concerns, particularly Selectperson Alicia Mallay.
“I have heard from a lot of people opposed to this,” she said. “Mostly what it came down to is that the five of us decided this instead of it being up to a vote. That was the one feeling shared on both sides of the issue, that this should go to a vote at Town Meeting, for a floor votes, which is what I would like to see.”
Board chair Tom Hooker agreed, but reiterated his support for the original resolution.
“I personally will sign that petition tonight like I originally said I would,” Hooker said. “And if it wants to be brought up at Town Meeting, it can be brought up again, I guess, for those who oppose it.”
Selectman David Mill also endorsed signing the original resolution.
Public comment for and against
When asked for public comment, the feelings of residents at the meeting were also mixed.
“It’s not simple,” Pittsford resident Steve Belcher said. “I oppose this resolution. Number one, you are essentially claiming in this resolution that you have an authority you do not have. Number two, it is a very divisive issue and Pittsford is already divided. I would like to see you working to bring us together.”
Belcher added that he believes that by endorsing the resolution, the board is recognizing a gun movement that claims it can nullify laws and that “violence against the government in support of gun rights is legitimate, and I don not want Pittsford to take a position like that.”
But another resident at the meeting pointed out that there have been no issues with other towns that have previously adopted similar resolutions, like Irasburg.
Pittsford resident Bonnie Bourne told that board that the move at the Jan. 22 meeting to support the resolution without public input surprised her.
“I’ve always supported the Second Amendment,” Bourne said. “But I have to say, over such a controversial issue, it surprises me that the select board would take this action themselves without remembering the people they represent. To not give them an opportunity to express their thoughts on the subject is just a misstep.”
Resident Mark Winslow said the current climate in Vermont is that the attack is on gun owners and not the other way around.
“I think it’s important to point out that there is not a gun movement, there’s an anti-gun movement,” he said. “All you have here in this resolution is law-abiding citizens who would like to retain their constitutional rights against an anti-gun movement, and that’s what we’re seeing in Vermont.”
“These are already things that are on the books,” Winslow said. “There’s no masses who are going to come in and disrupt society, so I’d like to keep it in that context, please.”
But resident John MacHardy asked that if the resolution is non-binding and current laws apply, whether the board should a consider other basic rights resolutions.
“Does this mean we have to send a resolution in Vermont to speak freely, or to practice religion?” he asked.
MacHardy added that he’s seen a catamount more than once in Pittsford, even though the state has declared the cougar-like cat extinct.
“I’m not against guns, but I’m against publicity,” he said. “I was told (catamounts) don’t exist because if word got out, people from the lower states would come up and hunt them. And, if we pass a resolution that doesn’t mean a darn thing except somebody might be angry or afraid they’re going to lose their guns or weapons… it seems redundant that we should have our name wrapped up in a proposal that really doesn’t mean anything.”
To sign or not to sign?
In the end, the four out five board members signed the original resolution with Pelkey declining. Mallay requested that the board hold off on signing until after Town Meeting, but the rest of the signers disagreed.
“We sign it tonight with the understanding that it will come up at Town Meeting,” Mills said.
“My recommendation is that you all show up at Town Meeting and when the moderator says, ‘Is there any other business,?’ raise your hands and say, ‘Yes,” and that would let the whole town know what’s happening.”