Burrillville Town Council defends its Second Amendment Sanctuary Town vote

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Ahead of public comment from Burrillville residents both critical and supportive of a Second Amendment Sanctuary Town resolution passed by the Town Council two weeks previous, Burrillville Town Councilor Donald Fox read a prepared statement. The statement was supported by the entire council.

“Burrillville does not have a history of gun violence. We refuse to become a pawn in the polarized debate about gun violence that has drawn outrageous half-truths from advocates on both sides,” read Fox. “The Burillville Town Council has adopted the Second Amendment Sanctuary Town resolution and in adopting it is not seeking to ignore or circumvent state laws. Rather, we are stating our commitment to following the laws as set forth in both the Rhode Island and the United States Constitutions. We are not prohibiting our Police Department from enforcing the law. We recognize and uphold the laws that are currently on the books regarding gun purchases and ownership. We are however concerned that pending legislation as proposed may infringe on residents constitutional rights…”

You can read the entire resolution at the bottom of this page and/or watch the video here:

Burrillville resident Betsy Alper petitioned the Town Council to get this discussion on the agenda.

“I do understand that the resolution simply states that any future legislation requiring storage of guns and ammunition will be viewed as an unfunded mandate and this Town will not provide funds for such storage,” said Alper. “However, the message I heard, when I was in this room two weeks ago, and since then broadcast over the state and nationally, is quite different. The message being heard is that Burrillville will not enforce the laws believed to infringe upon the right to bear arms…

Alper, a social worker, asked the Town Councilmembers to imagine being a victim of domestic violence currently protected under the Red Flag bill passed last year in the Rhode Island General Assembly, a bill that gun advocates argued was not constitutional. Imagine, asked Alper, that “that law kept you safe, and now you hear the Town Council… is not going to enforce laws that they deem unconstitutional. For that woman, that’s terrifying, to wonder if that’s one of the laws that’s not going to be enforced…

“When I was here two weeks ago, I was surprised by the negative, divisive tone surrounding the discussions around this resolution,” continued Alper. “I heard the phrases, ‘progressive creep,’ ‘draw a line in the sand.’ I heard the characterization of people promoting gun safety laws as ‘those who choose to misconstrue the law.’ I heard, ‘Every year we have to put on our yellow shirts and go down to the State House and fight.’ And I heard that the resolution was to send a message to those ‘down in Providence.’

“Sitting in the room, it felt like that message was for me,” said Alper. “In this community, I’m a minority. I’m a Progressive Democrat. I support gun safety legislation. I supported the Red Flag bill that passed last year. And I managed to live here for 21 years, managed to raise my sons here, and have warm relationships with my neighbors, even when we disagree.

“This is part of living in a community. Finding common ground and respect for differences.

“Two weeks ago, it felt like the message to me was ‘You’re not welcome here.’ The comment ‘we have to put on our yellow shirts and go down to the State House’ does not include all of us. In fact, I go down to the State House sometimes in my red, Moms Demand Action tee shirt or sometimes in my orange tee shirt for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence in support of gun safety legislation…

“Sometimes the colored shirts feels like we’re on teams competing against each other. You will notice that there a quite a few yellow shirts here today but no red or orange shirts. We did ask that this be a community issue. We didn’t want this to be about teams, we wanted it to be about the community of Burrillville.

“My hope is that in this community, we’re all on the same team, not the Yellows and the Reds, but the team that wants a safe community for all…

“I’ve heard the term ‘sensible economic growth,'” continued Alper. “Which makes sense. I’m glad that’s on the mind of the Town Council. The strategic plan, which is on the web, has a number of goals which are about attracting businesses big and small as well as including the community here. It’s unclear how this resolution supports that goal. This resolution may even work against that goal.

“If I felt unwelcome sitting in this room two weeks ago, imagine if someone who thinks like me is thinking of moving their business here. It is my hope that the Council will revisit this resolution and its impact on the community and the long term strategic goals that are clearly posted on the Council’s website,” concluded Alper. “I thank the Burrillville Police for issuing a definitive statement that they are governed by law, not town politics.”

Environmentalist and Burrillville resident Paul Roselli had issues with the process.

“In my world of environment activism I fight for all species in our town attempting to reduce or halt the damage or decay or extinction of anything that is connected to the land and water around us: that includes us by the way,” said Roselli. “But what seems to have become extinct with this resolution are the species of transparency, discourse and dissent. There was no discussion among the citizens of our town, there does not seem to be any attempt to send the resolution out before-hand for citizen review. What seems to have happened is that outside national organizations sent over a policy statement for you to review and approve. And you did with no dissent. No dissent is the most troubling. There should have been one among you who stood up for the other citizens in town: those who do not own guns; those who felt that they were left out of the discussion; those who feel that with all that is going on with legislation on the makeup of the Energy Facility Siting Board, changes to solar and wind permitting and installation, and decisions about the power plant that you could have waited. But you didn’t wait. And there was not one among you who dissented.

“This resolution violates my first and foremost principle: that is, belief in the rule of law. Now I know that with this resolution you meant to counter what you felt was another breaking of the law by those who promote sanctuary cities. And you might be right. After all the breaking of a law is a breaking of law no matter what law you are trying to break! If breaking the law means, in this context, distancing local police from working with federal agents or asking the Burrillville Police Department to, as is mentioned in the resolution, ‘exercise sound discretion when enforcing laws impacting the rights of citizens under the second amendment.’ Either one of those is, taken as a whole, is breaking the law. But I hope you understand, that there is a stark meaningful difference between the two: the first is for people – providing sanctuary to those who are oppressed or in danger of life and limb or feel they need a safe haven in order to subscribe to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The other, your resolution, has to do with things. You are not allowed to provide sanctuary to things, not even people with things.

“Think of the ramifications for those who are impacted by domestic abuse, those whose lives are threatened by acts of violence in the home or workplace, those who live with someone who has a gun. How do you think this resolution makes them feel? Your actions are disrespectful to survivors of gun violence, and are out of step with the way the majority of Rhode Islanders feel about commonsense gun safety reform.”

You can read his full comments here, and watch the video:

Councillor Fox disputed many of the comments made by the residents who testified. He bristled at the idea that the wording of his Second Amendment Sanctuary Town resolution was handed to him by outside, national groups.

Donald Fox

“That’s not the case,” said Fox. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a scholar. I cobbled that resolution together by doing research. Nothing was sent to me. I’m acting on nobody’s behalf but my own. I crafted that resolution on my own.

“The rule of law in this town is being upheld,” continued Fox. “There’s a lot of discussion about discretion being given to the police force. That discretion is given for good reason. We have one the best trained for these forces in the State of Rhode Island. That discretion is given to them so that they can work underneath the Red Flag law, so they can uphold that law and follow the law.

“There was some comments made earlier that the tone’s been divisive. I apologize if that what was taken but you need to understand that the tone that the Second Amendment supporters receive on the other end is divisive. I remember President Obama calling us gun clingers and bible-thumpers or some such thing1,” said Fox. “You know we’re being called all manner of divisive terms because we want to follow through with our constitutional rights. Those terms are just as divisive and I apologize to any of the community members here if they felt that way.

“This resolution was passed to protect all community members to protect the constitutional rights of everyone in town whether you support the Second Amendment or not.

“Our agendas are posted one week in advance. This wasn’t a surprise move. The agenda is posted one week in advance. It’s posted on our website.

“In Rhode island, Burrillville is actually a leader on this issue and other towns have taken notice and they’re following suit. West Greenwich just passed a resolution this evening.

“I am tired of going down to Providence and fighting this legislation every year,” continued Fox. “I’m also tired, as a town councilman, of sitting here and dealing with unfunded mandates. The comment was made that it’s a toothless resolution. I’ll tell you what – Governor Raimondo2 and the progressive leadership in Rhode Island3 who want to pass these legislative acts – Should you pass legislation to ban the ownership of assault rifles or high-capacity magazines, you better fund it, because here’s where the teeth come in: We’re not going to fund it so be prepared.

“I hope more communities in general push back on the unfunded mandate issue,” said Fox. “That term probably, before this resolution was passed, not many people were familiar with it. I can tell you that people in this council chamber and the people who work in this administration, not only in Burrillville but in every other town, In Rhode Island, we’re very familiar with it because we have to wrestle with them every year to make sure that we don’t blow through the tax cap and raise your tax rates exponentially.

“This is a two-pronged message to Providence. It has to do with our constitutional rights and has to do with unfunded mandates.

“The media needs to do its job. I was called repeatedly on vacation last week by reporters and some of them had not even read the resolution but they wanted to comment on it. The media has to make sure that they understand this resolution before they report on it because the half-truths that are being thrown about out there are because of this representation either on purpose or not by the media. So I would ask them if they’re covering this tonight… please understand the resolution.”

Burrillville Town Councilmember Raymond Trinque:

Burrillville Town Councilmember Dennis Anderson:

Burrillville Town Manager Michael Wood:

Burrillville Town Councilmember Jeremy Bailey said that if he had to vote on the resolution today, he would vote the same way:

Here are the videos featuring the rest of the people who testified at the Burrillville Town Council meeting on this issue. In all, seven people testified in support of the resolution, eight people testified against it.

Here’s the statement of the Burrillville Town Council, as read by Town Councilmember Donald Fox:


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  1. Obama’s actual quote is: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
  2. Governor Gina Raimondo is not a progressive. She is a centrist.
  3. There is no real progressive leadership at the Rhode Island State House.

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About Steve Ahlquist 1030 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com