By LEE J. KAHRS
PITTSFORD – The Pittsford Select Board has unanimously supported a resolution making the Sunshine Village a gun owner sanctuary.
The resolution claims the right to nullify, or invalidate, laws that infringe on what a gun rights organization calls “the lawful use of firearms.”
The five-member board approved the move last week; but residents of Pittsford won’t be voting on it.
The original 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.
“It doesn’t have a real, legal standing, but it would send a strong message up to Montpelier,” Wood said before reading a letter explaining the proposed resolution, a move endorsed by the organization Gun Owners of Vermont. The letter read:
“We, the people of Pittsford, have taken notice of the recent, growing hostilities among our lawmakers toward our inalienable right to self-defense. This is evidenced in their attempts to pass legislation eroding our rights to keep and bear arms in defense of ourselves and the state as protected by Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution and the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
“Despite our objections and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, law-abiding gun owners continue to be blamed for the horrendous acts of violence which continue to plague our country and, to a much lesser extent, our state.
“We live in peace as all good people do and have continued to draw the attention of lawmakers attempting to fix the problem by targeting good people.
“While there is no doubt that our society does, in fact, seem to have problems with violence, criminalizing peaceful people for owning a tool to protect their families will solve no problems and do nothing except create more criminals.
“The inalienable right to self-defense does not come from man or man’s law. These pre-exists all governments and are part of our nature as persons. The founders of our country and the state of Vermont understoodthe importance of arms in the hands of the common man as not only a hedge against invasion but as a deterrent from tyranny and oppression from our government.
“Civilian-owned firearms save countless more lives every year than they take. Often the mere presence of guns served as a deterrent to violence in the hands of our weakest and most vulnerable.
“It is for these reasons that we ask the board to adopt this resolution as a symbol of our civil disobedience to these that would attempt to render us defenseless. Please pass this resolution in defense of our rights.”
The resolution 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.”
Marbury vs. Madison is a seminal 1803 Supreme Court decision that established the principle of judicial review in the United States, declaring that American courts have the power to strike down laws, statutes and some government actions that violate the Constitution of the United States.
The Select Board welcomed the basic message but one member was cool to the idea of putting the resolution on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, Selectman Hank Pelkey read a statement of his own, in which he explained that the board has long rejected ballot resolutions regarding any issue that wasn’t directly relevant to local town business.
“I sympathize with your position,” Pelkey told Wood. “However, it has been a longstanding policy of this select board not to allow any issue that is not germane to the town of Pittsford to be included in the warning for town meeting. An issue that the town has no control over has always been excluded… To put you guys on would be a slippery slope. My position is, we keep the town meeting where the townspeople come together and discuss and vote on local issues that they have control over.”
Select Board Chair Tom Hooker then asked if there was another way to support the resolution.
“Is this something the board can support without putting it on the warning?” he asked. “Why can’t we, as a board, support it?”
Wood suggested that the board just agree to sign the resolution as a show of support.
Selectman David Mills made a motion that the board sign the resolution, and the motion passed unanimously. The action was met with applause from the audience at the meeting.
For the record
Rep. Butch Shaw (R- Brandon, Pittsford, Sudbury) of Pittsford was at the Jan. 22 select board meeting. Shaw has split his votes in favor and against gun legislation in Montpelier over the last few years. Shaw voted against S.169 last session, which requires a mandatory 24-hour waiting period on buying handguns, and against last session’s S.55 bill, which raises the age for long gun purchases to 21, mandating background checks for private firearm sales, banning magazines of bullets holding more than 15 rounds, and banning bump stocks. Both of those bills passed the Vermont House.
He voted for H.422, which allows the confiscation of firearms in cases of alleged domestic abuse.
In the 2018 session, Shaw voted in favor of S.141, making it a crime for convicted felons to possess firearms and requiring the state to report anyone who has been found by the court to be mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Shaw said that he does not agree with Wood’s resolution making Pittsford a sanctuary town for gun owners, and has particular issue with the last paragraph of the resolution, which dismisses any law or regulation on gun rights as “null and void.”
“If I signed on to that resolution, it would cause me to violate my oath of office,” Shaw said. “I can’t do anything injurious to the Constitution of Vermont and I have to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I’m duty-bound and I can’t just put my oath of office aside. I have to live that oath. That last paragraph is a problem for me.”
Celebrating a victory
The same week the Pittsford Select Board passed the resolution, there was also a national pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va. Gun Owners of Vermont touted the move in Pittsford, as well as in the Northeast Kingdom town of Holland, Vt., where the select board also supported the resolution but did not approve a ballot item.
Gun Owners of Vermont, which in 2018 claimed to have 7,000 members, sent out a press release on Friday stating that “In two unanimous votes, gun owners and their allies in freedom stood today with their brothers and sisters in Virginia – and across our nation – to safeguard the inalienable human right of self-defense.”
The Holland Select Board also approved the resolution as a board but did not approve adding the resolution to the Town Meeting Day ballot.