SABATTUS — Selectmen Tuesday night declined to let the town vote on a proposal to require heads of households to own firearms.
Resident David Marsters proposed the vote on the ordinance, but selectmen sided with the police chief, who opposed the measure.
"I'm a strong believer in the Second Amendment," police Chief Anthony Ward said. "People also have a right not to bear arms."
The chief said the proposal could create problems. "Criminals are mobile," he said, and that thieves could potentially see Sabattus as an easy target for break-ins and firearm theft.
Ward also was concerned that the proposal could potentially put guns in the hands of dangerous individuals. He said some people, even those who might be able to pass a background check, should not be armed.
Marsters wanted the people to decide. "My request is to put this on the ballot for the residents to vote on it," he said.
He cited his 23 years of military service and how every family "had a .50-caliber machine gun," to protect the house.
Selectman Paul Gagne asked Marsters, "Are you going to force me to have a gun if I don't want one?" When Marsters said that there would be no penalty for noncompliance, Gagne responded, "Then why have an ordinance?"
Marsters said that he was looking to the future, claiming that it would protect Sabattus if the government ever restricted gun ownership.
Selectman Andre Marquis voiced discomfort with the proposal. "I personally don’t want to be the board member to force people to have a weapon," he said.
He urged Marsters to go through the petition process to put a citizen's initiative on the next ballot. Such an initiative would require Marsters to collect at least 202 signatures by May 2.
Selectman Mark Duquette expressed concern about those with undiagnosed illnesses or with mentally ill children in the house. He asked Marsters what would happen if someone broke in and stole his gun. "Would I have to buy a new one?" he asked.
Marsters said people should lock up their guns. Duquette asked Marsters if he should ask an intruder to wait while he unlocked his gun.
Sabattus resident Irene Breton expressed concern about civilians owning militarized weapons such as the AK-47. "They say we have a right to bear arms, but when was that written? Are we at war?" she asked.
Amedeo Lauria voiced support. "Look what’s going on around the country right now," he said. "There are places you cannot own a gun." Lauria however, said such an ordinance should be worded differently, that it should say Sabattus will pass no laws infringing on the right to own a gun.
The final vote fell far short of Marsters' goal, with four opposing, no votes in favor and two abstaining.
Sabattus is not the first town in Maine to attempt such a measure. Bowerbank, a town that borders Dover-Foxcroft and is home to 116 residents, passed a similar ordinance in June 1994 by a vote of 26-11.
The ordinance, which is still active, exempts seasonal residents, according to a Morning Sentinel report at the time, and allows exceptions for those who are opposed to weapons on principle, for those with physical or mental disabilities, felons and “paupers.”
According to former Bowerbank Selectman Stephen Rainsford, the law is “just sort of a tongue-in-cheek thing.”
“We never enforced it and probably never would, but the truth of the matter is that everybody in town owns guns anyway,” except the summer people who vacation along Sebec Lake, he said.