Town Meeting Tonight: Article 34 - Assault Weapons and Guns

Meeting in Margery Milne Battin Hall, Isaac Cary Memorial Building, 1605 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington MA
This is the sixth meeting of the 2016 Annual Town Meeting
Article 34: Assault Weapons & Guns
Resolution is offered by Town Meeting Member (TMM) Robert Rothberg:
RESOLVED that Town Meeting requests the Board of Selectmen to inform the Great and General Court of its concern that existing Massachusetts laws regarding assault weapons (M.G.L. c. 140, § 131M) may not sufficiently protect citizens of the Commonwealth, and Lexington. Town Meeting asks the Selectmen to initiate a town-wide discussion about assault weapons and gun violence that would lead to fully considered proposals (to be conveyed to the Great and General Court) for a strengthening of those laws.
Town Moderator (TMod) calls 6th session to order, introduces herself, and welcomes the many visitors in the balcony tonight - the hall seats 800+ and is quite full
Tonight's vote will be on a non-binding resolution
Electronic attendance indicates a quorum: 153 TMMs present out of 198 total members

Mr. Robert Rothberg moves the motion that would:
  • have the Board of Selectmen appoint a committee to study assault weapons and guns and report back to the Town Meeting at next year's Annual Town Meeting (ATM)
  • Massachusetts has strong laws, but not the strongest
  • The Commonwealth's laws difficult to enforce
  • AG Healy: gun violence is a public health issue; suicide is 5x greater when gun in the home
Mr Rothberg concludes, asks TM for support

Board of Selectmen has not taken a formal vote, though two are opposed, two are supportive, and one is undecided until hearing floor debate on the issue

Town Mod opens the floor for debate at Yes, No, Question, and Citizen microphones
TMM at YES: Some say TM should limit their deliberations to financial, zoning, and leave issues outside of Town borders alone. This is our concern. All statutes and regulations should be subject to our review.
TMM at NO: I do not own a gun. 23 months in Viet Nam taught me about guns. Had to walk through a metal detector to a public meeting. I'm able to shop, go to restaurants, and to usually go to meetings without a metal detector.
6 people standing behind YES mic
Public/Citizen's mic: I'm a resident and, apparently, a minority on this issue. Disagreed with the initial MOTION and disagree with the present RESOLUTION. Thinks "...a town-wide discussion... 'may' lead to proposals...for a strengthening of those laws."
TMM Q: I'm not a gun proponent, don't own a gun. Reading that assault rifles fire 600-900 bullets a minute. Under MA law can't have more than 10 bullets in a magazine - please explain
Mr. Rothberg asks Town Moderator to acknowledge Mr. Barry; she does
A: I'm not an expert in these weapons, I only license these for the Town
TMM: Am I understanding correctly that one pull of the trigger will fire more than one bullet?
A: Not sure
TMM/Selectman at YES: The resolution is inconvenient and comes at a time when the Town is grappling with many issues. The many letters, emails, phone calls has received speaks to the need for a discussion.
Citizen mic: Resident, former TMM. Doesn't think a Town-wide discussion is warranted.
TMM Q: Whether this MOTION passes or not, will the League of Women Voters of Lexington address this in a Community Conversation
A from LWVL: Yes and what a community can usefully do
TMM: WOuld this be agreeable to you
A from Mr.R: Yes
TMM: Yes, No, and Abstain are blunt tools. I hope people will take part in discussion, in light of current conversations. I will vote NO
TMM at YES: Recognize the seriousness of the issue and talk about it. Understand that many of those here were very unhappy with the RESOLUTION and want to start over. Let us say, "Less gun violence and more conversation." The Point is we need to do more.
Citizen: Want to know why TMMs would object. I look to this august body to look at the differences and move forward. Sense of safety and security for our children, and for respect for what happened on the [Battle] Green to ensure our security.
TMM Q: Introductory Q - do we have fewer TMMs tonight?
TMod: NO
TMM Main Q is - can we take a secret ballot?
TMod: NO - TMMs were elected through a public process and those votes are part of the public record.
TMM at YES: I applaud the impulsiveness of the maker of this MOTION
TMM at NO: Massachusetts has the most comprehensive gun control laws. Not arguing with statistics and facts - they're horrible. I'd like to see our community to come together with LWVL to discuss all issues; we don't need a resolution
Sargeant from Hanscom AFB: [in answer to previous Q about whether or not one pull of the trigger can shoot more than one bullet] No a semi-automatic weapon cannot fire more than one bullet. I have spent last 9 years of my life in the Army. April 19, 1775 - men laid down their lives. We don't have a gun problem we have a heart problem. We need to address mental health, not guns.
Citizen: Resident. We are not criminals and not a danger to the community. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
TMM Q: Did Mr. R intend for the Town-wide convo to be limited to guns?
A: I was hoping to keep my MOTION within the scope of Article 34; would welcome other issues to be addressed.
TMM at YES: I studied this quite a lot. Looked at the Constitution for guidance. I think the framers had Muskets in mind, not semiautomatic weapons in mind.
Citizen: My first time to TM since moving here in 1986. Heartily hope we will pass this resolution. Reasonable regulations of guns is constitutional.
TMM Q: Scope on assault weapons in handout?
A: All of them
Q: Selectmen or LWVL?
A: Selectmen haven't taken this up
TMM at YES: Nitpicking on "should" to "could".
Citizen: Resident. First time to Town Meeting. This is literally "cart before the horse". Unfair to gun owners.
TMM Q: I don't own a gun. Has Mr. R given thought to the message we are sending to neighboring towns?
A: Lexington is the center of the universe. Towns will do what we do if we do it well. [Town of] Lincoln has already had the discussion at their TM and has passed.
TMM Q: What about violence that emanates from neighboring towns?
A: We can have a convo about what goes into decisions in Lexington
TMM at YES: I'm glad we are discussing this. This is a function of Town Meeting.
TMM Q: For Police Chief - laws that ban, how many weapons have the Lexington Police confiscated?
A: Zero
TMM: Follow up - how many gun-related killings do we know of from some reasonable period in the past?
A: Killings by another individuals - zero; suicides
TMM: how many recently?
A: last 5 years - best estimate=3
TMM: I plan to vote NO
Citizen: Laws enacted in 1994 did not address assault weapons. MA is one of 7 states that banned assault weapons. It is far more important to ensure all provisions of MA law are funded and supported.
TMM at NO: Initially wanted to offer an amendment but withdrew because this MOTION is solely focused on assault weapons.
TMM Q: Is this a correct reference to MGL?
A from Town Counsel: There are a number of sections that reference. I don't have it in front of me
TMM: I don't see how we can vote on this.
A from TMod: since this is non-binding vote, the exact reference is of little consequence, so long as it is in there somewhere

>Citizen: Please vote NO.

>TMM Q: Does the Chief of Police have an opinion? Has the LPD taken a position?
A from Chief: My personal opinions are for myself not my position. I addressed my opinion at public meeting of Selectmen; suggested changing from Bylaw to RESOLUTION
TMM at YES: Is a physician. Sees lots of injuries. Has to report patterns in types of injuries. Address mental health, yes, but if we are to have a discussion about this, let it begin here.
TMM at NO: Need broader discussion.
TMM at YES: thanks TMMs for their service. Applauds Mr. R for bringing this RESOLUTION forward. Come with open minds.
TMM Q: If this were to pass tonight, what would the process be?
A Selectmen Chair: hasn't discussed. Expectation is that we would find a way to discuss as requested
TMM Follow up: Can we hear thoughts from other Selectmen?
TMM/Selectman: I voted NO. My feeling is that discussion through LWVL. RESOLUTION is on ground I'm not comfortable with.
Another Selectman: I also voted NO. Feel there are flaws. The convo tonight is robust but doesn't hear from all our neighbors and it needs to.
Another Selectmen who wanted to wait to hear TMM discussion tonight: I have talked with Mr.Rothberg. I am very much in favor of having a Town-wide discussion about this whole issue. Does not feel it is up to the Selectmen to set up a committee, subject to postings, what-not. Leaning toward YES.
Citizen: From Lowell. Thank you for letting me speak to your TM. Even as a young student in Lowell I always appreciated our regions's role in American History. We are facing the same over-reach in Lowell. Please vote NO.
TMM at YES: Whatever the outcome
Two TMMs at NO
Three TMMs at YES
10 Citizens
MOTION to close debate
VOTE on MOTION on non-binding RESOLUTION
TM adjourns 9:34 (unofficial)

"Some Relevant Numbers and Facts" - distributed to TMMs by Mr. Robert Rothberg:
  • From 2005 to 2014, 310,000 Americans lost their lives in or near their homes from gun violence. During the same period 229 Americans were killed by terrorists
  • Since Sandy Hook in 2012, more than 106,000 Americans have lost their lives from gun violence
  • In 2015, there were 13,000 gun killings
  • In 2015, there were 330 mass shootings
  • This year, already, there have been nearly 3,000 gun killings
  • So far in 2016, there have been nearly 56 mass shootings, involving 4 or more people
  • Each day 88 Americans are killed by guns
  • 1 in every 3 people in the US knows someone who has been shot
  • Nearly 2,000 children are killed each year by guns in the US, and 9,000 children injured
  • 7 children and teens are killed every day of every year by guns
  • More than 342,000 Massachusetts residents own one or more firearms
  • The US ranks number 1 in the world in gun ownership, followed by the Yemen
  • The US homicide rate from firearms is 20 times higher than the combined rates of twenty-two countries with similar wealth and population
  • There are 270 million guns in the US, the equivalent of 88.9 guns per 100 Americans
  • Assault rifles are the weapon of choice for mass shooters because of their high, rapid rate of fire
  • An assault weapon is a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip, a folding stock, a grenade launcher, a flash suppressor, and/or a bayonet lug
  • Assault rifles fire 600-900 bullets a minute
  • When the Federal government had a law (1994-2004) against assault weapons, it managed to remove military-style weapons from the nation's streets. After the ban expired, mass violence escalated
  • A Justice Department study of the Federal assault weapons ban found that it was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all others factors equal.
  • The same study also found that "Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple woulds per victim, and police officers as victims."
  • The use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds about nine years after the US 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect.
  • When Connecticut toughened its laws recently, assault killings went down. When Missouri axed its similar laws, killings went up.