As of Tuesday night, the warrant for this spring’s Town meeting is officially closed. But in reality, one could say that it’s not quite closed all the way.
The Board of Selectmen and local residents had a robust debate on Article 30, an article built around the goal discussed at the board’s last meeting to create a bylaw prohibiting the sale or possession of certain guns such as assault weapons and machine guns within town limits.
With the absence of Selectman Val Wormell and the measure’s driving force, Selectman Bob Jefferies, the debate around the warrant article on Tuesday split into two camps: those who believed the warrant article, and the subject of gun control, should be discussed for better or worse at Town meeting, and those who believed the issue required more deliberation before Town Meeting brought it to a vote.
On the board, Jim Sullivan spoke on behalf of the latter view, which was also espoused by a majority of residents testifying, a stream that began with certified firearms safety instructor Al Prescott.
“I agree completely with Sullivan that this should be discussed, and that the board has put together something that is very hasty and one sided,” said Prescott, who also serves on the town’s Fence Viewer Committee. “I am concerned that if this were to go into effect, you’d make me a criminal overnight.”
Residents asking for the delay or removal of the article in its current form cited a wide variety of reasons ranging from economic hardships from gun owners looking to avoid Westford businesses to potential legal costs stemming from challenges to the possible bylaw on recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, just to name a few.
On the other side of the argument, Selectmen Kelly Ross and Andrea Peraner-Sweet were joined by several other residents in neither supporting nor opposing the measure, but asking that it get a hearing from the voters at Town Meeting on March 23.
Ross in particular cited the fact that the initial goal was brought up four days after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and that although he had heard a wide array of opinions from people he respected on both sides of the issue, he felt that there was a consensus on all sides that the town should discuss what needs to be done to ensure that the events of Newtown could not happen in Westford.
“This conversation is going on across the country at all levels of government,” he said. “Since I’m not sure (what the answer is), I think it’s appropriate to bring it to Town Meeting and have a debate there.”
He also mentioned to those opposing the inclusion of the article onto the warrant that even if it did pass Town Meeting, it would not be able to become a bylaw without approval of the Attorney General’s office, which would be unlikely if the article potentially violated state or federal law.
Ross also asked those in attendance and any other residents interested in the topic to e-mail the Selectmen and not Town Manager Jodi Ross, who he said had received numerous e-mails on the issue despite the fact that it is a board matter and not within the purview of her position.
Ultimately, the warrant was closed, although the board agreed to reopen Article 30 for discussion at their next meeting in order to obtain the input of Jefferies.
Opponents of the article questioned why Jefferies was not in attendance, which was not indicated during the meeting, but all three members of the board vouched for Jefferies’ character.
“If he’s not here, there’s a good reason,” said Sullivan.
The Board next meets on Tuesday, February 12 at 7:30 p.m.