The town of Sudbury, Massachusetts recently held a vote concerning zoning laws and the firearm industry. It has become a semi-common practice in Massachusetts, among other jurisdictions, to try and zone out the Second Amendment. This trend, as well as the fingerprints left behind by proponents of the regulation change, shows the systemic issues we have with blind ignorance and hatred towards anything firearm related.
Through a citizen petition in Sudbury, a warrant was raised that was voted on at the annual town meeting, May 1-2, 2023. The warrant required a two thirds vote of the citizens present to pass. While the warrant did not get close to the threshold of passage by the citizens, with nearly two thirds in opposition of the regulation change, the story is far from over.
The warrant, TM-2023 – Article 55 Control of Firearms Zoning, would have outlawed nearly all firearm related commerce from being able to occur within the town.
This amendment would make the Sales, Assembly, and/or Manufacturing of Firearms and/or Components thereof, Ammunition, and Explosives a prohibited use in all zoning district in the Town of Sudbury.
The warrant was raised by a citizen petition, however the individual that raised the petition sat on the Zoning Board of Appeals at the time of the meeting. Frank Riepe delivered an impassioned – albeit misleading and incorrect – presentation on why the warrant he brought via petition should be enacted by the citizens of Sudbury.
Riepe made many claims about the Second Amendment during his presentation, and like all those in favor of zoning out the Second Amendment through the process, stated over and over again that “it does not impinge on anyone’s rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.” Riepe further added to that though, “However, individuals should not be tempted by ready access to firearms, to spontaneously commit violence against themselves, classmates or family members. The darkest impulses of the human soul should not be exploited for profit.”
Fellow Zoning Board of Appeals member and Chair, John Riordan, delivered remarks on behalf of the Zoning Board.
Mr. Riepe, who is also a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, brought this idea, this bylaw proposal to the Zoning Board of Appeals in August of 2022. And we had hearings in August and in September. So the only reason that we’re here today on a citizens petition is because the Planning Board and the Select Board decided not to act before the today when the Select Board met at 6:30 tonight on this question. The Zoning Board of Appeal, acting under its authority under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 40 A Section Five, voted unanimously to support this zoning amendment. It made a referral to the planning board with the strongest possible language recommending this proposal.
Why would the Select Board not move on the proposed bylaw change? The three to two vote against making the measure part of the town’s laws is actually disconcerting. The board, after being given guidance by their own attorney, surprisingly did not vote unanimously against the measure.
Charlie Russo on behalf of the Select Board did relay their position on why the majority voted the way they did.
In the opinion received [by] town council states uncertainty about whether or not the proposed bylaw as written would be approved by the Attorney General. Additionally, the opinion states that it is quote, “highly likely that the Zoning Bylaw would be subject to a constitutional challenge.” This means that Sudbury could face an expensive and a high profile lawsuit.
That advice was reiterated by their legal council who issued a six page letter to the Select Board, noting that the measure would leave the town vulnerable to lawsuits. Lee Smith from KP Law, who was present the evening of the meeting stated “there’s a strong likelihood that it will be challenged in court. If civil rights violations are alleged and proven, the town may be liable for attorney’s fees for the other side.”
The troubling fact remains there were still two Select Board members who were willing to leave the town vulnerable to tort if the bylaw was passed. This vein of anti-Second Amendment sentiment runs so deep in society that members of local town boards are willing to possibly surrender millions of dollars due to legal fees, just to make a point.
Chronicling the progress of this measure and the forty minutes dedicated to discourse on the subject turned into a microcosm of the current debate on firearms in the U.S.
Most ideological archetypes were embodied in one way or another during the debate to outlaw the Second Amendment in a little Massachusetts town. There were the irrational, and full of fear hoplophobic persons represented. The gun owners that just want to be left alone and feel like they’re always the enemy were present. The pragmatic anti-gunner that knows the battle will cost too much, with it not being worth it.
The formerly mentioned chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, John Riordan, also made comments as a citizen. In his own speech he tried to gaslight the public by using his “experience” as an attorney to bring his words to validity. Mr. Riordan opened:
There’s a lot of really erroneous and false information being bandied about in the hall this evening. This amendment to our zoning bylaw absolutely does not take away anyone’s right to keep in bear arms.
Riordan was correct in pointing out the erroneous and false information, however a good deal of it was delivered by himself, Frank Riepe, and other proponents of the measure. Some of the most flawed comments made by Riordan pertained to what he said were statement of facts on limitations to the Second Amendment, “under the McDonald versus City of Chicago case, and also the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs Bruen, here are some examples of what would be permissible:”
…background checks, requiring background checks for all firearm purchases, waiting periods requiring a waiting period before a firearm can be purchased, age limits, setting an age limit for firearm purchases such as 21 years old, registration requiring firearm firearms to be registered with state and local government can be a permissible limitation, requiring that licensing and training which could include insurance requirements with respect to the purchasing of a firearm can be a permissible limitation. Limits on high capacity magazines. Banning high capacity magazines can be a permissible limitation, bans on assault weapons, banning assault weapons can be in certain types of firearms can be a permissible limitation…
Everything that Riordan mentioned is currently being challenged, has been already deemed unconstitutional, has had cases from the Supreme Court granted, vacated, and remanded, and are all ripe for challenge – because such limitations are unconstitutional. Riordan’s commentary had to be cut off because the attorney of 47 years, who had experience “as a legislative attorney for the US Congress,” went over his allotted time during his ramblings.
Hank Sorett, speaking on behalf of himself as a citizen, voiced strong opposition to the measure. Sorett, self-described as an attorney and legal scholar for 50 years, said that he’d be delighted “if we can melt down all the guns on the planet.” Through his testimony, he pointed out a reality that many anti-gun zealots cannot come to terms with easily.
The Supreme Court has spoken twice in the last dozen years on the issue of gun control. The first case was Heller versus District of Columbia, in which the court ruled that there is an individual right to bear arms, not limited to militia. The next case, which was two years ago was New York rifle and pistol vs. Bruin, in which the Court held that the licensing standards the licensing process, or conditioning licenses of the permit was unconstitutional. Under the current composition of the Supreme Court, and the current formulation of the Second Amendment, there’s a high probability that this law that this ordinance, if adopted would be attacked legally, and a high probability that it would be found unconstitutional.
There’s a simple answer to the question, “would outlawing the sale and manufacture of firearms in any given town be unconstitutional?” That’s a yes.
Outside of the main petitioner, Frank Riepe, there were only two others who spoke in favor of the measure as citizens, and they also hold roles within the town: Zoning Board of Appeals member and Chair, John Riordan, and Janie Dretler, a Select Board member.
Speaking against the measure as Second Amendment supporters, or those smart enough to realize a lawsuit would ruin the town, were four citizens. Of the four citizens who were against the measure, two mentioned they were members of Gun Owners’ Action League, the Massachusetts state NRA organization.
The zoning bylaw was voted down by the citizens present, with 64% against it. Of the 166 voters, 59 were in favor and 107 against. The vote indicates either a strong support of the Second Amendment, and or having sensibilities enough to respect the law of the land. From a town in Massachusetts, this is unprecedented.
The matter of zoning out the Second Amendment is not over in Sudbury. The Select Board indicated a willingness to work on a bylaw amendment that they and their legal council would think to be constitutional. Given there were still two board members who supported the measure, as well as the full Zoning Board of Appeals, we’re not necessarily dealing with a set of pro-Second Amendment leaders.
Citizen commenter Hank Sorett pragmatically outlined the path forward for those that want to banish firearms from society. While he was against the measure for financial reasons, the attorney stated:
The only meaningful way to change the gun culture in the United States is to change the Second Amendment. That is the process that emanates from the Congress. And so if you want to fight against gun violence, urge our members of Congress to seek to amend the Second Amendment.
This small annual town meeting in Massachusetts points at some of the issues across America on guns. Actually, those in opposition of civil liberties, in all but one case, handled themselves professionally and without allowing extreme irrational emotion to get involved. There were plenty of adults in the room to say “I’m all set,” knowing that trying to zone out the firearm related industry in the town would cost them a small fortune, even if they philosophically disagree with civil liberties. Rather than go off half-cocked, the mature proponents said “let’s get back to the drawing board.”
This was a victory for gun owners in Sudbury Massachusetts and the Bay State at large. The townsfolk cannot rest on the laurels of this win for long though. The citizens that care for fundamental rights in the town of Sudbury need to re-assemble, and start pushing opposition to any measure like this now, by getting and staying involved. Politics are local, and even in the fascist state of Massachusetts, proponents of liberty can win if they’re energized.
“We March every year to Lexington and Concord to commemorate the fact that people in this town had guns to protect us and our way of life as we founded the country. I will tell you that there will be a lawsuit for this…” Jeff Phillips, Citizen Commenter
A transcript of the discussions can be read HERE or below.
To watch the May 2, 2023 meeting containing the discussions on Article 55, click HERE or check it out in the embed below.
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