Voters in a small Rhode Island town defeated an effort by gun rights activists Saturday to recall four sitting town councilors who had proposed changing the way gun permits are issued.
The rare recall election was prompted by gun rights supporters who said the four Exeter council members ignored their objections to a failed proposal to allow the attorney general to oversee the town's concealed weapons permits.
"This was never a gun rights issue," said Town Council President Arlene Hicks, one of the councilors targeted by the recall. "It started out as a procedural proposal that we made as a council."
Town election officials reported a higher than expected turnout, with 63 percent voting against the recall. Of the town's roughly 5,000 registered voters, more than 1,800 turned out to cast their votes on a snowy Saturday in December for a special election that had drawn national attention from advocates on both sides of the gun control debate.
The three other officials involved in the recall effort were Councilmen Cal Ellis, Robert Johnson and William Monahan. All are Democrats. A fifth member, independent Councilman Raymond Morrissey Jr., voted against the resolution and was not up for recall.
Taylor Hart, an Exeter native who attends college in Texas, said she had been following the issue prior to returning home on Friday. Saturday's election was the first time she had cast a ballot. "I've been following the issue on Facebook and I've heard a lot about it from my parents and a lot of my friends back home," she said, adding that she had voted in favor of the recall.
So did Wendy Halstead, who in the past has served as a poll worker in local elections.
"You're either a gun person or you're not," Halstead said. "It's not the guns that kill people, it's the people that have the guns that do it." Keeping permitting powers local, she added, seemed like a more effective way of ensuring that guns don't wind up in the wrong hands.
Even though the council's request never got a vote in the Assembly, gun rights supporters began petitioning for a recall, saying the town's leaders had ignored the concerns of hundreds of people who turned out for a meeting on the proposal.
With the rare special election coincidentally falling on the anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, proponents had framed the election as a referendum on second amendment rights.
However, Councilor William Monahan said he saw the results as more of a victory of local politics over outside interests.
"This was clearly an attempt by outside people to steal an election in the town of Exeter," Monahan said. "We as a council had the courage to put this resolution out there, We'll see if the General Assembly has the courage to take it up."
Added Councilor Cal Ellis, "None of us here in Exeter are trying to deny someone the right to own guns. What I would hope is the results of this election would send a message that there are people -- a silent majority -- who would support a change in the way that we process concealed carry permits."
Asked if the council would push for the state General Assembly to take up the proposal again, Hicks deferred. "We haven't even gotten that far," she said, adding, "I didn't even pick up my mail Friday at Town Hall. I just wanted to make it through today."
"Hopefully, tomorrow we can just start our lives again," Hicks said.
Results of the election are expected to be certified on Monday.