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Maine Town of Byron Considers Mandatory Gun Ownership
03/08/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

Just three days after a similar proposal was unanimously voted down by the selectboard in Sabattus, the western Maine town of Byron is considering becoming the second community in Maine to take a clear stand on gun control - but perhaps not in the way you might expect. Next Monday, citizens who attend the open town meeting will decide whether or not to make gun ownership for the town's residents mandatory. Meanwhile, as Jennifer Mitchell reports, gun control advocates are saying it's a terrible idea - and civil rights advocates are at a loss.

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The town of Byron may be joining Kennesaw, Georgia, and Bowerbank, Maine, on a very short list of towns around the country that actually require residents to possess a firearm.

"The selectmen talked it over and we said, 'You know what? Sounds like a great idea,'" says Anne Simmons-Edmunds, who heads the Byron board of selectmen. She also works in law enforcement with the Dixfield Police Department.

While some might point out that an actual gun requirement could be viewed as an infringment on the rights of those who do not wish to possess guns, the difference, she says, is that this article will be decided "by the people."

"If you're totally opposed to it, vote in the negative. There's no hard feelings," Simmons-Edmunds says. "We just wanted to make a statement that it's the people that make the decisions, not upper management, because that's not how this country was started. This country was started by people making their decisions and government listening to us, not the other way around."

"Making provocative political statements that may get some attention are unfortunate, in my view, and a distraction from the really important issues that are being debated and will be debated this spring," says Bill Harwood, founder of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.

Harwood is not impressed with the Byron selectboard's position. The request for the gun requirement, he says, comes at an unfortunate time, when the gun control debate has never been more polarized. It also comes at a time when both nationally and at the state level, legislators are trying to address domestic violence.

"More guns lead to more violence," Harwood says. "The presence of a gun inside a home makes it much more likely that the residnets of that home will be the victims of gun violence, rather than saving them from an intruder."

But Simmons-Edmunds insists that it's not guns that are the problem, it's people. If the article is approved by the people at the town's open town meeting, Simmons-Edmunds says there's no plan for the town to start knocking on doors to check if people have purchased the requisite firearms.

But the question of whether they could remains, says Rachel Healy, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. It's unusual for the ACLU of Maine to comment on gun control one way or the other, but, Healy says Byron's proposal has raised some interesting questions.

"Does it offer exceptions for people whose religion may prohibit them from owning guns? What about people who, for certain reasons, are prohibited from owning guns under federal law - will they be prohibited from living in Byron?" Healy wonders.

If the rule functions as it has in the town of Bowerbank- a tiny community in Piscataquis county, which quietly passed a gun requirement rule decades ago - it won't do much but sit on the books as more of a principle, than something that is actually enforced. Either way, Byron voters will decide.


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