Monday, March 10, 2014
BYRON - Don't let the peace and quiet fool you. When the federal invasion comes, Bruce Simmons predicts, this tiny hamlet on the far edge of nowhere will be locked, loaded and ready for Armageddon.
Bruce Simmons, who proposed Byron’s gun question, Article 27
Bill Nemitz photo
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"It could happen tomorrow," Simmons warned Friday, his .40-caliber pistol (complete with 15-round magazine) at the ready. "You say the little town of Byron doesn't have a problem in the world? Well, if they come after my guns, there's going to be a helluva problem."
Don't run. There's actually a story here.
Monday evening, a sizable percentage of Byron's 140 or so townsfolk will gather at the Coos Canyon Schoolhouse for their annual town meeting.
First, they'll debate whether to withdraw from Regional School Unit 10. Then they'll set their sights on a local shoreland zoning ordinance that has half or more of the local citizenry muttering "government land grab."
Finally, they'll tackle Article 27, the last item on the lengthy town meeting warrant: "Shall the town vote to require all households to have firearms and ammunitions to protect the citizens?"
It's not a rhetorical question.
"We want to generate some talk -- and sometimes you have to do something extreme to get the talk going," said Anne Simmons-Edmunds, Byron's head selectwoman, a police officer in nearby Dixfield and, last but by no means least, Bruce Simmons' daughter.
Meaning she doesn't want to go knocking on doors and handing out semi-automatics? Isn't that what Article 27 is all about?
"There's no enforcement piece to it," said Simmons-Edmunds, standing in her driveway in her police-issue flak vest. "It's more of a statement. It's more of an attention getter."
Mission accomplished, Byron. You now have Maine's undivided attention.
Article 27 is hardly the first time the constitutional right to bear arms has somehow morphed into making room in every home for, as Bruce Simmons affectionately calls them, "my buddies Smith & Wesson."
Down in Georgia, the town of Kennesaw has had a gun-in-every-home law on its books since 1982. And up in northern Maine, the town of Bowerbank, population 115, passed its so-called "ordnance ordinance" way back in 1994.
But in the wake of the December mass killing in Newtown, Conn., and the ensuing hue and cry for tighter gun-control laws, the mandatory-gun-ownership movement is back in full force. And Maine appears to be leading the charge.
Last week in Sabbatus, at the urging of the local police chief, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 (with two abstentions) against a proposal by a retired police officer calling for a weapon and ammunition in every home.
Not so here in Byron, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it village on frost-heaved Route 17 about 90 miles northwest of Portland. With most estimates putting local household gun ownership at 90 percent or higher, Article 27 already boasts support in high places.
We start with Bruce Simmons, who lives on a hill overlooking his daughter's home and has a bumper sticker on his pickup that reads: "If we call it tourist season, then why can't we shoot them?"
A Vietnam veteran and himself a former selectman, Simmons approached the current board in January and asked that his gun question be added to the town warrant.
"It's a statement to the federal government that we're tired of the bull going on down in Washington and we're not going to take it anymore," he replied.
Might he be more specific?
"The president, in January of last year, passed an executive order giving Homeland Security the right to go into your house, grab you without a warrant and take you away," Simmons continued. "And no one will ever see you again."
And what executive order was that?
"I don't know which one," Simmons said. "He's written hundreds of them in the last year."
Asked a short time later how a guy in a peaceful paradise like Byron can live in such constant fear of faraway Washington, D.C., Simmons got up from his kitchen table and returned with a black wooden box. From it he extracted a small gold coin, a silver dollar and a crumpled dollar bill.
"I'm going to give you a little history lesson," he said. "When I was a kid, these three things were all equal."
Tapping the gold coin, he continued, "Today, this is worth 200 loaves of bread."
Tapping the silver dollar, he said, "And this is worth 20 loaves of bread."
Picking up the dollar bill, Simmons concluded, "And this is worth three slices of bread."
Got it. We need to arm ourselves against inflation.
But we digress.
On to Simmons' daughter, who told the Lewiston Sun Journal last week that she and her two fellow selectmen all support her father's initiative and would recommend its passage at Monday's town meeting.
"It's time to tell the government, 'Enough's enough. Quit micromanaging us,'" Simmons-Edmunds told the newspaper.
Hold on a minute. She wants "the government" to stop "micromanaging" people -- yet she has no problem as an elected municipal official forcing people to keep a firearm in the front hall closet?
"I know I sound like a hypocrite," Simmons-Edmunds conceded. "But we were asked (by her father, mind you) to present it that way. So we did."
Next up we have Selectman Patrick Knapp-Veilleux, who flies a white flag in his yard depicting a coiled snake surrounded by the words: "Liberty or Death. Don't Tread on Me."
His thoughts on Article 27?
"I think it's a good idea," Knapp-Veilleux said. "All we're saying is enough is enough."
Any predictions for Monday?
"I think it will be close," he replied. "I'm hearing a little bit of yea and a little bit of nay -- not overwhelmingly one way or the other."
That could soon change.
David Noyes, the third selectman, saw in the paper Friday that Simmons-Edmunds had him fully supporting Article 27.
"I don't like someone else putting words in my mouth," said a clearly irritated Noyes in a telephone interview from his home. "I'm going to go down there (to Monday's meeting) and get done."
Get done? Dare we ask what he means by that?
"I'm going to resign," Noyes said. "I'm not a politician."
Neither is Phil Paquette, a merchant marine who lives across the road from the Simmons clan.
Paquette spent much of Friday researching Maine law to see whether Article 27, if passed, would even be legal (it wouldn't). He also chatted with several like-minded locals who don't appreciate seeing their town turned into a punchline.
"I'm a life member of the NRA -- I've got more guns than God," said Paquette as he fed his horses Friday afternoon. "I've got a trophy room in the back of my barn that's got every animal in friggin' North America in it. But I'm so against this it's not even funny."
You see, Paquette also has a neighbor -- a kindly older gentleman who minds his own business, doesn't own a weapon and has zero interest in getting his hands on one.
"So why should he have to have one?" Paquette asked.
Umm ... to send a message to Washington?
"These people are insane," he muttered.
Paquette plans to deliver a short speech about leadership -- or in Byron's case, the lack thereof -- at the start of Monday's town meeting. He'll also remind his fellow citizens that as Article 27 goes, so goes Byron's reputation.
And if it passes anyway? What then?
Paquette just shook his head.
"This isn't even Redneckville," he said. "It's Stupidville."
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: