The town of Byron recoils at a bid to require every household to own a gun.
It was one of the fastest about-faces we can recall in small-town politics. The central Maine town of Byron (population: 145 )made international news when its selectmen placed this provocative article on the annual town meeting warrant:
“Shall the town of Byron vote to require all households to have firearms and ammunitions to protect the citizens?”
“We’re fed up,” Head Selectman Anne Simmons-Edmunds told the Lewiston Sun Journal, saying she was speaking for the three-person board. “We’re trying to prevent someone from coming into our town and trying to restrict our rights. It’s time to tell the government, ‘Enough’s enough. Quit micromanaging us.’” Simmons-Edmunds confidently predicted the measure would pass.
Three days later, the roughly sixty voters who gathered in Coos Canyon Schoolhouse agreed Article 26 was so urgent that it should be their first order of business. Then, without debate, they defeated it. Unanimously. That’s right, even Simmons-Edmunds voted against the proposal.
So, what happened?
For starters, third selectman David Noyes said Simmons-Edmunds misspoke (or, by her account, was misquoted) when she said the ordinance had the selectmen’s full support. “I don’t like someone else putting words in my mouth,” Noyes told Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz.
Then there was the biting criticism of what some viewed as government interference of the very sort Simmons-Edmunds said Byron citizens feared. It came not only from commentators like Nemitz, but also from some of those citizens themselves. “This isn’t even Redneckville. It’s Stupidville,” declared Phil Paquette, who told Nemitz he’s an NRA member with “more guns than God.”
Finally, there is the not-so-small matter that the ordinance would have been illegal: State law prohibits cities or towns from adopting laws pertaining to gun use and ownership.
But Simmons-Edmunds insists the ordinance was never intended to be enforced. “It’s more of a statement,” she told reporters. “It’s more of an attention getter.”
That it was, though perhaps not in the way she intended. Simmons-Edmunds soon found herself the focus of a recall petition seeking her removal from office. Among the reasons cited: subjecting the residents of Byron to “ridicule, embarrassment, and disrepute.”
Alas, if such behavior were sufficient to cost an elected official his or her job, we might have no government representatives at all.