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Carol Anne Costa: Exeter’s Recall- Why the People Won

Thursday, December 19, 2013


The people have spoken: the Exeter 4 live to govern another day.

Last year, with the Newtown massacre fresh, the Obama administration began advancing new gun regulations, many states including Rhode Island’s General Assembly started the move toward a gun reform package, and it sent local municipalities scrambling to review town and city policies and safety measures for guns and public buildings, particularly schools. With the nation mourning and angry, a flurry of gun and 2nd Amendment debate and legislation moved through the process on many levels from kitchen tables’ right up to the Oval Office. People formed strong opinions on access to guns, permitting procedures, mental health screenings and those positions proved steadfast on every side of the issue. Right here in the rural and bucolic Town of Exeter similar reviews of gun policies were under scrutiny and a political firestorm that resulted in a recall election ensued.

No matter where you are on the gun debate this process put democracy and citizenship in full view and that is a good thing. The roles of local canvassers, the special election process combined to exhibit the scope and responsibility of delivering a fair election through the town’s workers in charge of those duties. It displayed what activism looks and sounds like, and it provided a spectacular vision of what Saturday voting can do for the process. I believe whole heartily it is time to expand access to voting, streamline elections and give local canvassers more tools to make the process less cumbersome in RI. Did you hear that General Assembly? I am hoping that you are prepared to act forcefully on this in the upcoming session. And, look no further than Exeter to reference what Saturday voting can do for the election process.

The issue that polarized the Town of Exeter was a gun permitting conundrum which commenced a groundswell of participation and old fashioned grass roots campaigning and ultimately a rare event in Rhode Island; a recall election. At odds was the practice of allowing carry and conceal permits to be doled out by the Town Clerk assisted by the 84 year old Town Sergeant, who holds an elected position which remains rooted in tradition and is largely ceremonial. Exeter’s Town Clerk is the only Town Clerk in Rhode Island with this power and responsibility. These legitimate concerns moved the Town Council to act and thereby pitted them against a passionate gun advocates lobby.

The Vote

The special Exeter Town Council meeting of March 11, 2013 with over 300 citizens in attendance was ground zero for what was to come. Upon a motion made by Mr. Monahan to approve Resolution Urging Passage of Legislation Relating to Gun Permitting in the Town of Exeter; seconded by Mr. Ellis; and voted as follows: Arlene Hicks- yea, William Monahan-yea, Raymond Morrissey- nay , Robert Johnson- yea and Calvin Ellis -yea. With that vote, the many folks got fired up and ready to go.

The sitting Town Council voted to move the practice of permitting to the RI Attorney General’s Office which has the resources for more in depth reviews which the Town Clerk and Town Sergeant simply do not. The vote to support the resolution had gun rights advocates and the tea party faithful recoil in horror, and thereby challenge the actions of the 4 council members who voted affirmatively. And, the wheels of democracy hit the ground spinning feverishly fueled by passion, positions and old fashioned, bare knuckles politics; providing a lesson in the “process”. Lines were drawn, alliances formed and the political version of Survivor took shape.

Tribal Council - Battle Lines

On team “We the People” we find a spirited tribe of gun rights and good government advocates whose mission, according to their website, was clear: Re-Establish a Government: for the people, of the people, by the people. Defend your rights as an Exeter citizen and the rights of your fellow citizens. This is a non-partisan issue and concerns the Constitutional rights of all Exeter citizens. Elect officials who will represent the people and faithfully execute the duties of their office in accordance with the Exeter Town Charter and the law. Elect officials who will honor their commitment to the United States of America, respect the rights of its citizens and who will defend the US and Rhode Island Constitutions.

On team “Exeter 4” is a feisty tribe of defenders who assembled to support the embattled 4 Councilors; Calvin Ellis, Bill Monahan, Arlene Hicks and Bob Johnson. The tribe was fueled by the desire to keep moneyed and special interest groups from outside the town from usurping town government, according to their website.

Really don’t you just love a good political fight fraught with words and phrases like; we the people and usurping local government? It gets the people thinking and acting as they are supposed to in a participatory government. It is good for the political soul. Exeter’s people and process certainly came through with a tutorial in civics. Make no mistake, RI and the country was watching.

The special election surrounding the recall of the “Exeter 4” issue was about the process, enthusiasm and exercising the right to campaign, lobby and ultimately vote. While I personally believe the people of Exeter reached the best decision by rejecting the recall, I don't live there and I respect the full throated, passionate example of the process exhibited by this small, engaged and rural Rhode Island town. Rare is the recall election, but the tribe has spoken, turn in your torch We the People, as the Exeter 4 survive to govern another day.


A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.

Related Slideshow:
New England Communities With the Most Political Clout 2013

The Sunlight Foundation, in conjunction with Azavea, released data maps this week showing political contribution dollars to federal elections dating back to 1990 -- by county.

GoLocal takes a look at the counties in New England that had the highest per-capita contributions in the 2012 election cycle -- and talked with experts about what that meant for those areas in New Engand, as well as the candidates.  

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25. Merrimack County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.86

Total contributions: $1,447,713

Merrimack County is named after the Merrimack River and is home to the states capital, Concord. Merrimack County has a total area of 956 square miles and a population of 146,761.

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24. Cheshire County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.88

Total contributions: $759,209

Cheshire is one of the five original counties in New Hampshire and was founded in 1771. The highest point in Cheshire County is located at the top of Mount Monadnock, which was made famous by the poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

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23. Rockingham County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.96

Total contributions: $2,965,530

Rockingham has 37 communities and has a population of 297,820. Rockingham County also was home to the famous poet, Robert Frost

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22. Belknap County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.02

Total contributions: $604,512

Belknap County is one of the ten counties in New Hampshire and has a population of 60,327. It is located in the center of New Hampshire and the largest city is Laconia.

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21. Hampshire County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.41

Total contributions: $1,664,077

Hampshire County has a total area of 545 square miles and is located in the middle of Massachusetts. Hampshire County is also the only county to be surrounded in all directions by other Massachusetts counties.


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20. Barnstable County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.90

Total contributions: $2,348,541

Barnstable County was founded in 1685 and has three national protected areas. Cape Cod National Seashore is the most famous protected area within Barnstable County and brings in a high amount of tourists every year.

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19. Berkshire County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $12.49

Total contributions: $1,624,400

Berkshire County is located on the western side of Massachusetts and borders three different neighboring states. Originally the Mahican Native American Tribe inhabited Berkshire County up until the English settlers arrived and bought the land in 1724. 

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18. Essex County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.22

Total contributions: $9,991,201

Essex is located in the northeastern part of Massachusetts and contains towns such as Salem, Lynn, and Andover. Essex was founded in 1643 and because of Essex historical background, the whole county has been designated as the Essex National Heritage Area.


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17. Chittendon County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.86

Total contributions: $2,196,107

Chittenden has a population of 158,504, making it Vermont’s most populated county. Chittenden’s largest city is Burlington, which has about one third of Vermont’s total population.

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16. Lamoille County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $14.82

Total contributions: $369,854

Lamoille County was founded in 1835 and has a population of 24,958. The county has 464 square miles, of which 461 of them are land.

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15. Addison County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $15.49

Total contributions: $569,299

Located on the west side of Vermont, Addison County has a total area of 808 square miles. Addison's largest town is Middlebury, where the Community College of Vermont and Middlebury College are located.

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14. Newport County, RI

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $16.02

Total contributions: $1,214,26

Newport County is one of the five Rhode Island Counties and was founded in 1703. Just like Connecticut, none of Rhode Island counties have an any governmental functions.

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13. Cumberland County, ME

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $18.33

Total contributions: $5,205,507

Cumberland County has a population of 283,921 and is Maine’s most populated county. The county was named after the William, Duke of Cumberland, a son of King George II.

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12. Windsor County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.57

Total contributions: $1,156,149

Windsor County is the largest county in Vermont and consists of 971 square miles of land and 5 square miles of water.

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11. Bristol County, RI

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.91

Total contributions: $1,027,472

Bristol County has a population of 49,144 and is the third smallest county in the United States. Bristol County was originally apart of Massachusetts, but was transferred to Rhode Island in 1746.

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10. Grafton County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012 :$20.95

Total contributions: $1,868,739

With a population of 89,181, Grafton County is the second largest county in New Hampshire. Home of New Hampshire’s only national forest, White Mountain National Forest takes up about half of Grafton’s total area 

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9. Carrol County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: 2012: $22.81

Total contributions: $1,012,10

Created in 1840, Carroll County has a population of 47,567. Carroll County was also named after Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.

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8. LItchfield County, CT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $22.86

Total contributions: $4,286,143

Although it is Connecticut’s largest county, Litchfield has the lowest population density in all of Connecticut. Since 1960 all Connecticut counties have no county government.

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7. Middlesex County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $32.81

Total contributions: $50,432,154

Middlesex County has a population of 1,503,085 and has been ranked as the most populous county in New England.  The county government was abolished in 1997, but the county boundaries still exists for court jurisdictions and other administrative purposes.

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6. Nantucket County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $33.41

Total contributions: $344,021

Nantucket County consists of a couple of small islands and is a major tourist destination in Massachusetts. Normally Nantucket has a population of 10,298, but during the summer months the population can reach up to 50,000.

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5. Norfolk County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $35.87

Total contributions: $24,459,854

Named after a county from England, Norfolk County is the wealthiest county in Massachusetts. As of 2011, Norfolk was ranked the 32nd highest income county in the United States. 

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4. Dukes County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $36.32

Total contributions: $618,960

Consisting of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, Dukes County is one of Massachusetts’ top vacation spots. Originally Dukes County was apart New York, however it was transferred to Massachusetts on October 7, 1691.

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3. Suffolk County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $40.73

Total contributions: $30,323,537

Suffolk County has a population of 744,426 and contains Massachusetts’s largest city, Boston. Although Suffolk’s county government was abolished in the late 1900’s, it still remains as a geographic area.

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2. Knox County, ME

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $45.89

Total contributions: $1,820,410

Knox County was established on April 1st, 1860 and was named after American Revolutionary War General Henry Knox.  The county has a population of 39,668 and is the home of the Union Fair.

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1. Fairfield County, CT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $55.65.  

Total contributions: $51,970,701 

In a population of 933,835, Fairfield County is the most densely populated county in Connecticut, and contains four of the state's largest cities -- Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury.


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Will Collette

This is an apparently well-meaning but superficial analysis of what happened in Exeter, especially the part about the two tribes.

One tribe was correctly identified as people who actually live in Exeter and who have a reasonable grip on the reality that background checks for concealed gun permits ought to be done by people who are qualified.

The other "tribe" was shown to largely consist of people who do not live in Exeter but nonetheless decided to use the town as a tool to make their point that no form of gun control, however reasonable, will be tolerated. The tribal members are a Cranston-based radical gun rights uber alles group, the Tea Party, Rep. Doreen Costa (I don't know if she's related to the author) and assorted other nuts.

The only point these "We the People" people made was how out of touch they actually are with real people.

Ms. Costa employs the usual media device of trying to be fair and balanced by portraying both sides as if they are equivalent even though Exeter voters, by a two to one margin, say otherwise.

John Onamas

I haven't been able to follow this story closely. What issue did the pro-gun group have with placing this authority in the hands of the AG?

Rich B

@ John - I believe the gun rights advocates wanted to keep local control over who gets to issue concealed carry gun permits. The only problem with that kind of set-up is that Exeter doesn't have a police force (like most other towns) and it would have been up to the Town Clerk and a ceremonial Town Seargeant to make decisions regarding the background and mental capacity of prospective permittees. I'm sure the AG is just as well qualified to make these decisions as would a town/city police department. Bravo to Exeter for standing up for what is right for the safety of its citizens.

John Onamas

Thanks, Rich. I guess I still don't understand how that represents any infringement upon the second amendment. Was there a constitutional basis to their argument, or was this more a matter of convenience and control?

Prof Steve

John -

RI General Law 11-47-11 states that applicants who seek permits via their municipal government, if they meet all legal requirements and pass a background check, shall be issued a permit. Another RI General Law, 11-47-18, states that applicants who go to the Attorney General only may be issued a permit.

In other words, the standard for Exeter residents would be different than for the rest of RI citizens, so it is a constitutional issue under both the 2d and maybe the 14th amendments. If the law stated the AG "shall", then it would be no difference. Just because the town of Exeter does not have a police chief is not a reason to put its residents under a different standard. The town clerk is an elected position so either the person running should know issuing permits is part of the job (and if the person is not up to it or uncomfortable, then don't run) or move it to an administrative position.

If you want to see a constitutional ruling, look at RI Supreme Court 2013 opinion on Jarren Gendreau v. Josue D. Canario where the court said the local authority could not deny a seemingly valid application without giving a specific reason why the applicant failed one of the provisions. The state AG though can deny a permit by simply stating in his (or her) opinion, there is no compelling need.

According to the AG's office, the AG in 2012 denied 25% of new permit applications so there is an infringement on the 2d amendment unless the state changed the law to either "shall" for the AG or moved the permit process entirely to the AG and took it out of local control (and that might be a constitutional issue too).

Art West


Exeter gun owners wanted to keep concealed carry permit issuance within the town (via the town clerk), while a majority of the town council voted to turn that authority over the RI attorney general.

It was not a Constitutional issue, but an issue of local town control versus state control. Exeter gun owners felt one issue (probably rightly so) was that they would be subject to partisan politics with the AG involved.

Prof Steve

Will - So are you saying the 600 or so Exeter voters who signed the recall petition do not constitute a legitimate group of concerned citizens or are simply the residents of Exeter who "don't have a grip on reality"? Your post would indicate that the recall was driven by outsiders, but ultimately it required at least 10% of the registered town voters to sign a petition.

Art West

Prof Steve's answer is better and more complete than mine, but the thinking that the AG route might be more political in nature was still a concern of the gun owners.

John Onamas

Sure, but couldn't partisan politics come into play with an anti-gun town clerk too? Section 11 states that a license may be issued "if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear an injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol or revolver, and that he or she is a suitable person to be so licensed." Words like "appears," "good reason," and "suitable" are very subjective and open to interpretation. One clerk's interpretation might be radically different than another's. Section 18, involving the AG, requires "a proper showing of need," another very subjective standard, and really just a shorthand version of section 11. While the current AG might have denied more applicants than local officials in Exeter, an election or two down the road might find the local official to be more strict than the AG. It really seems to me that both laws are flawed in their level of subjectivity and should be scrapped in favor of measurable, objective standards.

G Godot

Maybe the "New Exeter" types ought to dig down, raise their taxrate, and HIRE a local police force instead of sponging off the State Police. Then, perhaps, many "old Exeter" types won't feel quite so much need to have a carry permit. Maybe. WHen seconds count, the cops are minutes away. Gee, if you had a POLICE FORCE, like other cities and towns with YOUR tax base, then the CHIEF could pass on who gets a carry permit.

G Godot

"Measurable, objective" standards ought to be EASY to implement, given the clear language contained in the Rhode Island Constitution regarding the subject, although that was before marsupial judges who can tuen black into white got involved. As for the AG, why "work for the AG's campaign and he'll get you a permit promises are as old as the hills around here. It's part of the reason why the "Journal" wants the list of holders.

G Godot

BTW I ALWAYS get MY political insight from out of town democrat political hacks like Costa, who accuses OTHER out of towners of getting involved in this.

Sammy Arizona

As we all know, the Second Amendment requires that every person, no matter how stupid, emotionally ill-equipped, or mentally unstable, have unlimited access to firearms on demand.

The proliferation of guns in this country presents a real danger to the 75% or so of us who do NOT own guns and would like to NOT get killed by one.
I think that it is not unreasonable to require mandatory liability insurance for gun ownership. If I have to have liability insurance for a car or truck, why should anyone escape responsibility for any injury or death caused by their guns? Insurance guarantees that there will be money to pay for damages

Happy Holidays....Sammy in Arizona

Art West


RE: Your post at 1:58.

Certainly, a partisan town clerk could be elected. But if so, it would be the citizens of Exeter who put that person in office. There are lots of people who value having say in their affairs at as local a level as possible. Others like to give control to those higher up the food chain.

John Onamas

Art, that was my interpretation too. This is an issue of local versus state control, rather than one of rights. It would be much easier of the gun owners of Exeter to remove an unsympathetic town clerk than an AG who is a gun control supporter.

John Onamas

Art, that was my interpretation too. This is an issue of local versus state control, rather than one of rights. It would be much easier for the gun owners of Exeter to remove an unsympathetic town clerk than an AG who is a gun control supporter.

Johnny cakes

“Why the People Won”

People only win when everyone is subject the same rules and regulations. As it stands now, the decision about who receives a permit to carry a concealed weapon is totally arbitrary, after the background check, etc. One could be refused and the other could receive a permit.

Prof Steve

Read how the RI Supreme Court has ruled. The local authority is far less arbitrary because the person has an automatic right to appeal to the RI Supreme Court. No such right for an appeal exists for a denial by the AG office ("may") because it is the local authority ability that the Court held guarantees the RI Constitutional right to bear arms.

It is very much an issue of rights given the precedence set by the Supreme Court of RI.

I would suspect based on this ruling that unless the General Assembly changed state law, the RI Supreme Court would throw out the Exeter legal change to eliminate a local option for concealed gun permit.

"In contrast to § 11-47-18, the statute now before the Court, § 11-47-11 is mandatory – an applicant who meets the criteria
set forth in § 11-47-11 is entitled to a gun permit. See
Schubert v. DeBard , 398 N.E.2d 1339, 1341 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980) (“[I]f it is determined * * * that the applicant has met the conditions of the statute, the [licensing authority] has no discretion to withhold thelicense.”). Although we are mindful
that the “suitable person” provision in § 11-47-11 vests the local licensing authority with discretion to reject an application
filed by an unsuitable person, this leeway does not affect the requirement that the licensing authority shall issue a permit to a suitable person who meets the requirements set forth in the
statute. The finding that an applicant is a suitable person involves
an exercise of discretion, but certain individuals are unsuitable as a matter of law, including convicted felons, habitual drunkards, mental incompetents, illegal aliens, and anyone who has failed to meet the minimum firing qualification score.38

Moreover, if a license is refused on the ground that a person is not
suitable, this determination is subject to review by this Court on certiorari. See Krivitsky v.Town of Westerly, 823 A.2d 1144, 1144 (R.I. 2003) (“unless ‘a right of appeal is specifically
provided by statute,’” the proper procedure for denial by a town
council of a license application is by writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court). Because anyone who meets the conditions of §
11-47-11 is entitled to a gun permit, this mandatory requirement supplies the necessary safeguards to the right to bear arms in this state and vindicates the rights set forth in art. 1, sec.
22, of the Rhode Island Constitution.

Walter Miller

The recall measure was (justifiably) defeated because the controversy didn't even come close to justifying such a drastic action. In fact, the recall should never have been held. I'm not certain what the people who signed the recall petition were thinking (not?). Recall votes should be the absolute exception in just about every case.

This effort was a total waste of taxpayers time, energy and financial resources. Thankfully, an overwhelming majority of town residents had the good common sense to vote it down.

Johnny cakes

"The local authority is far less arbitrary because the person has an automatic right to appeal to the RI Supreme Court.”

And the Supreme Court has the “right” to refuse to hear it, after spending how much in legal fees? And if you have ever been before the highly politicized courts, you should know that “justice” has more to do with who you are than what kind of case you have. Those who get permits, outside of employment, are the same people who get the low license plate numbers.

I’m not defending Joseph Caramadre, but he didn’t break any laws. He exploited a loophole in the variable annuities contracts of insurance companies. What he did was lawful; he didn’t write the contracts.
Taking advantage of desperate people is not a crime, the insurance companies do it every day - so do payday lenders. Not one person went to prison after the $180 billion taxpayer bailout of AIG, the largest insurance company in the world. The DOJ refused to indict.
How many people lost their homes to subprime lenders, who wrote mortgages they knew would fail - even forged their signatures. Who went to prison? Caramadre is a small-time shyster and he is in prison because he flimflammed the big-time shysters.

The law is supposedly impartial; they tell us all the time. And as long as this law is not enforced equally - which it’s not - people haven’t won anything.

For the record, I don’t own a weapon. I also know that what is behind this attempt to disarm people is social control, and not some phony concern about who is killed with guns.

The US is the biggest mass murderer in the world.

Jimmy LaRouche

Was there ever a reason stated for a change? Have CCW permit holders in Exeter suddenly start behaving badly? Usually, change occurs to fix a problem--what was the problem?

G Godot

The problem is Exeter is turning into a bedroom communoity and too many brain dead leftys are moving in from elsewhere. "We need to raise taxes to help the poor" they say, and then move to a low tax town which could easily afford a police force but won't hire one. It's not a "gun violence" problem in Exeter, it's a "we just moved in and the little red book says we hate guns" problem. So long as the AG is a hack democrat, only the "favored" get permits.

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