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Rhode Island town voting on recalls over gun permit changes

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FILE: Jan. 23, 2013: Employees demonstrate gun safety to clients at the Los Angeles gun club in Los Angeles.Reuters

Residents in the small Rhode Island town of Exeter are voting on whether to recall four town council members who proposed changing the way gun permits are issued.

Saturday's recall election was sought by gun rights supporters who say the council ignored their objections to a failed proposal that would have allowed the attorney general to oversee Exeter's concealed weapons permits.

Under current law, those seeking a permit may apply to either the attorney general or their local police. The town of 6,000 has no police department so permits are now handled by the town clerk. The council recently voted 4-1 for a resolution asking the Rhode Island legislature to take the responsibility for the permitting process away from the town, The Wall Street Journal reported. The members said the clerk lacks the resources to conduct proper background checks. 

“My personal belief is those four are antigun, plain and simple,” Letita Davis, a resident who helped organize the effort told The Wall Street Journal.

“Our rights are at issue here – our Second Amendment rights as well as our rights to be listened to by our elected leaders,” she told the newspaper.

The council members say gun rights supporters are trying to make them an example for other officeholders considering changes to gun laws. The members say they were trying to beef up background checks for public safety in the interest of public safety.

“Gun-rights groups are pushing harder and harder to get lawmakers to stay away from guns altogether, and we’re seeing them give payback to those that don’t,” Joshua Spivak, a recall elections expert told The Wall Street Journal.

In September, two Democratic Colorado state senators were recalled over their support for changes to gun laws following the theater massacre outside Denver in 2012. 

The four officials being targeted by the recall effort are Council President Arlene Hicks and Councilmen Cal Ellis, Robert Johnson and William Monahan. All are Democrats. A fifth member is not up for recall: independent Councilman Raymond Morrissey Jr., who voted against the resolution.

Should one or more of the council members be recalled, their council seats will go to the losing candidates from the last election. Daniel W. Patterson would get the first seat, Edward F. Nataly the second and Lincoln P. Picillo the third.

The fourth seat would be filled by a council appointment.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. Both sides were concerned about a low-turnout with snow in the forecast. 

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.