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Lexington, Home Of Revolutionary War's First Shots, Wants To Ban Assault Weapons

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Minuteman statue in Lexington, MA
Rose Trinh
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you were paying attention in History class, you know the town of Lexington, Mass. as the place where American revolutionaries fired the shot heard around the world. Now some residents there want the town to be known as the place that leads the charge against gun violence. NPR's Arun Rath has been covering this story - not just as a reporter, but as a resident himself.

ARUN RATH, BYLINE: Lexingtonians are proud of their revolutionary history and the role a local militia played in resisting the British. Guys dressed as minutemen with muskets are a common sight here. But in recent months, local resident Robert Rotberg decided he'd heard enough about violence committed using modern weapons.

ROBERT ROTBERG: The kind of mayhem we've seen where people with guns in their homes invaded schools or the San Bernardino killings and so on.

RATH: Rotberg is a professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard and has been a member of the Lexington Town Meeting for over 40 years. The Town Meeting is made up of around 200 residents, most elected to three-year terms, who gather annually for a series of meetings to debate amendments to the town code. In December, Rotberg drafted an amendment to ban assault weapons in Lexington. He modeled it on another local ban from Highland Park, Ill., one that closed loopholes in existing gun laws and had already survived a court challenge.

ROTBERG: Made perfect sense to use their very carefully crafted legislation, which not only bans assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; but it also specifies the hundred or so specific weapons that are prohibited.

RATH: Lexington resident and gun owner Seth Riney thinks Rotberg's proposal is misguided.

SETH RINEY: To me and others, it's a solution looking for a problem. And I'm, you know, mostly frustrated that it seems to be mostly politically motivated in the sense that it's a - it's an effort to try to achieve some political glory for, you know, the town of Lexington and some of the people who live in Lexington.

RATH: Rotberg says it's not about personal glory. But he does have ambitions beyond the Lexington Town Meeting.

ROTBERG: Just as we fired the first shot to start the revolution, this might be the first shot - no pun intended - to start a movement against assault weapons that would capture the state and therefore maybe explode to reach the country.

RATH: So advocates for gun rights and advocates for gun control across the country are taking an interest in Lexington's Town Meeting. By tradition, anyone is allowed to attend the Town Meeting and speak.

DEBORAH BROWN: I'm anticipating that we may draw individuals who want to address our meeting from outside the community who may be unfamiliar with how Town Meeting works.

RATH: Deborah Brown is the moderator of the Lexington Town Meeting.

BROWN: We encourage robust debate. But at the end of the day, we're all going to see each other at the grocery store and at the school. So when we debate, we're going to do so in a way that doesn't cast aspersions on individuals. So it's sort of my role to make sure that tone is kept.

RATH: That means any outsiders will have to follow Lexington rules. Be nice and keep comments under three minutes. An amendment requires a two-thirds majority to be adopted. And if it is, the Massachusetts state attorney general will need to approve it before it becomes the law in Lexington. The annual Lexington Town Meeting starts late next month. If you want to attend, Deborah Brown says she'll be happy to brief you on the rules of decorum. 

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved.

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