LITCHFIELD — Jonathan Yellowbear is so concerned that federal and state gun laws could become too restrictive that he wants his fellow residents to declare all of them — past, present and future — invalid in town.
So the Litchfield resident has approached selectmen to ask about putting a “Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance” before voters at the annual Town Meeting in June.
The proposed ordinance, which Yellowbear said he wrote with John O’Donnell, of Monmouth, would declare that all federal and state acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms are a violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S Constitution, and of the Constitution of Maine.
Yellowbear, a local Abenaki and owner of a custom muzzle-loading shop called Abenaki Gun Works, noted the Second Amendment states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” and the Constitution of Maine states that “every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”
He said the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has caused a knee-jerk reaction among politicians to try to regulate firearms more tightly. Since then, President Barack Obama has proposed a list of gun control measures, including background checks for all gun purchases, a ban on military-style weapons and renewing a 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines. Congress has yet to act on any of those proposals.
“Some of our illustrious congresspeople don’t know what ‘shall never be questioned’ and ‘shall not be infringed’ really mean,” Yellowbear said. “Our last recourse is to enact protection at the local level.”
He said similar proposals probably would be brought up in other local towns, including Winslow and Monmouth.
At a meeting Tuesday night, selectmen said they support the Second Amendment and citizens’ rights to have guns. But the proposed ordinance, declaring all state and federal firearms laws invalid in Litchfield, is too broad and could have unintended consequences, they said.
“Jonathan, it’s a can of worms,” said Selectmen George Thomson, who said he owns six guns. “In its present form, it’s too broad. I won’t sign it. It’s too problematic. I don’t trust those guys in Washington either.”
Thomson said he wants his gun, “but we have to take a responsible position.”
Thomson said declaring all state and federal gun laws invalid also would remove the ban on some people — such as felons — from having guns, as well as the ban on guns in schools and restrictions on fully automatic weapons.
Instead of declaring firearms laws unconstitutional, selectmen said they probably could support a less ambitious resolution, such as asking voters to approve a statement saying the town supports the Second Amendment.
“A statement that this town supports the Second Amendment, that’s a pretty strong message right there,” said Rayna Leibowitz, chairwoman of the selectmen. “And who could argue with that? That might be an alternative.”
Rep. Melvin Newendyke, R-Litchfield, said he favors local control but questioned whether the town could supersede state and federal firearms laws. He agreed with selectmen that the proposed ordinance is overly broad as written.
Newendyke warned that declaring all state and federal actions about firearms invalid would include legislation recently passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage that temporarily shields the identities of concealed-weapon permit holders from the state’s right-to-know law.
Yellowbear ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for House District 80 against Newendyke in 2010.
Yellowbear and others at the meeting Tuesday said the Founding Fathers considered the right to bear arms an inalienable right that cannot not be surrendered or legally taken away.
“The question is how are we going to keep these in place, our constitutional and God-given rights” to keep guns, Yellowbear said. “How are we going to protect our rights if the federal or state government decides otherwise?”
Yellowbear said he would work on the wording of the proposal and, at the suggestion of selectmen, speak with Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty about whether such an ordinance would be enforceable in Litchfield.
Liberty said Wednesday that such an ordinance in Litchfield would make enforcement difficult, because “every one town can have different ordinances, and it can create a patchwork.” Liberty said he would recommend Litchfield instead consider a general resolution affirming Second Amendment rights, and leave considerations of the law to the legislative process.
“I told him (Yellowbear) the Maine Sheriff’s Association and myself are very engaged in the legislative process and working with the Legislature,” Liberty said. “We’ll work with the legislative branch to protect our Second Amendment rights — they’re important to us as sheriffs.”
Yellowbear said he planned to bring a revised proposal back to selectmen.
Selectman Mark Russell said the board could agree to place the revised proposal on the Town Meeting warrant, but if it doesn’t, a citizen petition with the signatures of at least 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election could be circulated to force the issue before voters at the Town Meeting. With about 1,580 residents voting in Litchfield in 2010, that would mean 158 signatures would be required.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647