Looking Forward From the Exeter Recall

What Lessons Will the Town Council Take from the Recall Experience?

We won’t know for awhile what lessons, if any, that Exeter’s current Town Councilors will take from their victory in Saturday’s recall election. According to Mike Stanton writing in the Boston Globe, after the four members of the Exeter Town Council who were on the recall ballot learned that they would be keeping their seats, Council President Arlene Hicks was asked if the Council would again consider the firearms permitting issue that spurred the recall.  She answered that “she would want some reassurance first that the Legislature is willing to act” before revisiting it.

If the Council President and Democratic majority are looking for a “reassurance” that they should re-pass the same resolution that they’ve already passed, because this time the General Assembly will act on it, then nothing was learned.  The Town Council would be using their meetings as empty political theater, where the public is brought into the process after the important decisions have already been made, which is the kind of governing process that helped motivate the recall effort in the first place.

On the other hand, it would be a slight tick in a positive direction (yes slight, but positive) if the Exeter Town Council took from this experience that, when people turn out to discuss important issues in the proper public venues, it is a bad idea for government officials to pretend that issues they would prefer to avoid don’t exist (in this case, the important issue being how the quirks of Rhode Island law significantly impact a basic constitutional right, which should be considered in any future deliberations on this matter).

How Attorney General Kilmartin Can Improve the Chances of Moving All Firearms Permitting to His Office

Stanton’s article also mentions that Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin will continue to advocate, as he did last year, for moving all concealed-carry permitting to the AG’s office, not just for Exeter but for all of Rhode Island. If the Attorney General’s goal is really just to create “one central clearing house for gun permits”, he can improve his chances of achieving this by making a simple change to the bill he submitted last year, by proposing to change the law so that the Attorney General issues permits on the same “shall issue” basis that municipal authorities currently do.

If this change is a non-starter for AG-only permitting proponents, then 1) the change being sought cannot be accurately described as solely administrative in nature and 2) it is entirely fair to describe supporters of the 2013 version of the Kilmartin proposal as opponents of the right to bear arms, who support a policy that is in direct contravention of the US and the RI constitutions.

The Referendum Option That the Town Council May Not Know it Already Sort of Supported

Another pathway forward on the issue of concealed-carry permits is available to Exeter.  It’s a route that the Exeter Town Council technically supported (maybe without knowing it, as they don’t always give the impression that they understand what they’re voting on) but that didn’t make it through the backrooms of the Rhode Island statehouse.

Sample legislation that was attached to the resolution passed in Exeter asking the state to remove firearms permitting authority from the town mentioned Exeter by name. Under the home rule provision of the Rhode Island Constitution, a bill that applies only to a single town must be ratified by a voter referendum in the affected town before it can take effect. However, by the time legislation reached statehouse committees in this year’s session, specific mention of Exeter had been removed, meaning no referendum would be necessary.

Since Rhode Island will be holding elections in 2014, if the GA were to pass a truly Exeter-specific bill in its upcoming session, a referendum that that would directly resolve the issue, with minimal confounding factors, could be conducted as part of an already-scheduled general election. Well, maybe directly resolve is a little strong, because…

Since Constitutional Rights are Involved, So Too May be the Courts…

Whether through the usual statehouse sausage manufacture process or through a referendum, if Exeter becomes the only town in RI where a “shall issue” process for obtaining concealed-carry permits is unavailable, a lawsuit will almost certainly follow. Indeed, if the law is changed so that concealed carry permits everywhere in Rhode Island are issued only on a “may issue” basis, a lawsuit will likely follow.

The point made two sections above applies here as well. If supporters of moving concealed carry permitting to the Attorney General, for Exeter or for all of Rhode Island, want to make the threat of a lawsuit instantly go away, all they need to do is change the word “may” to the word “shall” in the section of the law that authorizes the AG to issue permits. If they beg a lawsuit by refusing to consider this simple change, something more than a desire for administrative streamlining must be a part of their agenda.

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