William Monahan can walk out his back door in this woodsy town on any weekend and hear the pop of gunfire. His ear knows when a neighbor has gotten a new AR-15 rifle. His grown son keeps a 9-millimeter handgun at the house, and Monahan supplies him with fire extinguishers to shoot in the gravel bank out back and watch them explode in a shower of white foam.
So the vice president of the Exeter Town Council was shocked when his vote last spring to ask the Legislature to have the Rhode Island attorney general handle concealed carry permits instead of the town clerk put him and three fellow council members in the cross hairs of the vitriolic national debate over gun control.
Exeter residents and gun advocates protested the move, then launched a drive to recall four of the five members of the Town Council for infringing on their Second Amendment rights and ignoring the will of the people.
That culminated on Saturday in an unprecedented election in an impending snowstorm 11 days before Christmas. Despite the weather, which forced postponement of a live nativity at the Exeter Chapel, more than 1,800 people, or 37 percent of the town’s 5,000 registered voters, turned out to reject the recall, by a margin of 63 to 37 percent.
“Exeter strong,” shouted one supporter.
In addition to Monahan, the other council members who faced recall, all Democrats, were council president Arlene B. Hicks, Calvin Ellis, and Robert Johnson.