TOWNSHEND -- Facing legal concerns and opposition from gun-rights advocates, the Townshend Selectboard on Monday night voted unanimously to rescind a ban on firearms in town-owned buildings.
The policy had been approved only three weeks ago. But Kit Martin, the board's vice chairman, characterized that vote as a "knee-jerk reaction" that had to be reversed.
"I believe that we, as a board, made a mistake," Martin said.
The move was applauded by Ed Cutler, who wore a black "Gun Owners of Vermont" T-shirt to the Selectboard meeting.
If someone with violent intentions brings a gun to the town office, Cutler argued, "the only thing that's going to stop them is somebody else with a gun."
The firearms policy was approved July 16 and had applied to all town buildings including the office, highway garage, library and fire station. Only "authorized law-enforcement officers" were excluded.
But board Chairwoman Hedy Harris said the town's attorney subsequently advised the board that the ban could not stand.
"It seems clear that the only exceptions to the constitutional right to bear arms are schools and courthouses, and we are neither one of those," Harris said prior to Monday's vote.
The board handled the matter as its first order of business Monday. The five votes to rescind the gun policy included Selectman David Dezendorf, who was not present at the July meeting when the board enacted the ban.
"We've received quite
The issue also spurred letters to the Reformer, with one writer saying the ban "steps all over state law, not to mention that it was crafted without any legal references."
And it brought Cutler, a Westminster resident and legislative director for the gun-ownership group, to Townshend on Monday. The board already had rescinded the policy when he arrived, but Cutler nonetheless took the opportunity to tell the board that other Vermont towns have been forced to revoke such bans.
"We don't change the motor-vehicle laws from town to town," Cutler said. "We also should not change the firearms laws from town to town." Cutler also argued that widespread gun ownership "prevents violence just because of the fact that you do not know who is armed."
And he invoked the July 20 shooting that left 12 dead and 58 injured at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., contending there would have been less bloodshed if even one moviegoer had been carrying a gun.
"Those people were helpless," Cutler said. "There was nothing they could do."
Townshend officials have said they were trying to be proactive in approving the gun policy, adding that there had been no gun incidents at the town office.
But on Monday, Martin said there had been a few residents who felt "intimidated by firearms in the building."
Joe Novick, Townshend's first constable, said the ban left him unclear about whether he was allowed to carry a weapon into the office. While stopping short of saying he thought the policy had been directed at him, Novick acknowledged that he had worn a gun to meetings with the Selectboard.
"I was on duty," he said.
Novick said no one had told him there was a problem with that. Likewise, he said he had not spoken with any Selectboard member since the July 16 gun-ban vote.
"I don't think enough research was put into it before it was passed," Novick said. "I think they learned a valuable lesson."
But he also said he would not have directly challenged the ban. Novick did not bring a gun to Monday's meeting.
"I would have respected what they asked, as I did tonight," he said. "The last thing I want is to make people uncomfortable."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.