At next week’s spring Town Meeting in Longmeadow there will be three articles on the warrant seeking to regulate fire arms in this Western Mass suburb of Springfield. Articles 29, 30, and 31 were placed on the TM warrant by citizen petition, which means that they did not have to be approved by the Select Board. The articles call for a ban on fire arms on town property, a requirement that residents seeking gun permits identify and describe all their fire arms as part of the permitting process, and a town-wide ban on assault weapons and “high capacity feeding devices.”
The citizen petitioner is Longmeadow Selectman Alex Grant, who said he’s “looking forward to a nice debate on these issues” and that “[a]s long as we’re respectful, it’s going to be valuable for our democracy.” Local gun owners, however, appear to be anything but pleased about the opportunity for such a debate at the spring Town Meeting. Opponents of gun control in town wasted no time organizing and mobilizing against these measures. The N.R.A.’s “Institute for Legislative Action” targeted Longmeadow’s proposed gun control bylaws. Within weeks, signs started showing up on lawns in Longmeadow asking residents to “Vote No on Articles 20-30-31.” These signs include a link to a recently created web site, LongForLiberty.org. What they do not include is any mention of what articles 29, 30, and 31 are about.
With the help of the N.R.A., opponents of gun control in Longmeadow are engaged in “stealth” political mobilization operations. Under the auspices of something called the “LongForLiberty Task Force” they have been conducting stand outs (which they call “awareness stations”) at prominent intersections in town where they hold their ambiguous “No” signs and wave to passersby at rush hour. However, they don’t hold any signs that identify their cause (i.e. preventing gun control bylaws from being enacted in Longmeadow). Clearly, they don’t actually want to make “the public” aware of their cause, rather they want to make the town’s gun owners aware without alerting “the public.” The idea is to mobilize opponents in town to attend the TM and vote down the proposed bylaws without alerting town residents who would be supportive of local gun control measures.
Longmeadow is an upper middle-class bedroom community that is hardly a hotbed for 2nd Amendment zealots. Were the issue properly and publicly joined by the town’s population, these proposed gun measures would pass easily. If the N.R.A. subsidized signage did include anything about “guns” or “gun control” it would likely have the opposite of its intended effect.
Though clearly a bit sneaky, this stealth mobilization is fairly smart. There has been very little public attention to this issue and Town Meeting attendance is usually quite low. Furthermore, the gun control articles are near the end of an unusually long warrant, which means that they may not be dealt with until late in the meeting. Longmeadow Town Meeting attendees are notoriously unwilling to remain at the TM late into the evening. Many residents leave right after the consideration of whatever item drew them to the TM.
So, on Tuesday night, May 10th in the Longmeadow High School gym a well-coordinated, though stealthy mobilization campaign will be up against what are probably majority sentiments in Longmeadow regarding gun control. Fortunately for the N.R.A. backed local gun control opponents, well-organized and passionate minorities often prevail over less well-organized, less passionate majorities in American politics. Although, I suppose there might also be an even more stealthy mobilization operation underway among Longmeadow’s gun control supporters?
Frankly, I’ll be interested to see just how many of my buttoned-down professional neighbors are packing heat. I’ll also be interested to see how good the N.R.A’s political mobilization training really is. Will opponents of these measures on the Town Meeting floor make the popular but not very intelligent arguments against gun control often highlighted in our national debate about guns? Or, will local gun enthusiasts rise above brain dead, apocalyptic rhetoric and attempt to make rational, practical arguments against the proposed measures that might persuade their reasonable neighbors? Hard to say. The stealthy nature of their efforts so far counsel sophistication, though the name of their “task force” suggests that there may be some hyperbolic rhetoric and jingoistic displays of “patriotism” on the Town Meeting floor as well.
We’ll see on Tuesday night.