The Ashland City Council has decided not to ban the open carrying of loaded guns in town.
Mayor John Stromberg said pro-gun-rights advocates had stated they would openly carry their guns in Ashland in protest of the proposed ban during Fourth of July festivities, which attract thousands of residents and tourists.
Advocates previously had staged at least one protest in which they carried guns openly in town, and attended several council meetings armed.
For months, councilors had debated a proposed ordinance brought forward by a group of Ashland residents concerned about guns that would have banned the open carrying of loaded guns in public places in town, unless the person had a concealed handgun permit.
"It was divisive and it was causing people to open carry," Stromberg said of the proposed ban.
Councilor Pam Marsh said when the issue of gun regulations was first brought up, she was eager to see what could be done on the local level. She wanted to make a statement of community values against gun violence.
But as debate continued, the issue was splintering the community, Marsh said.
Then people on both sides of the issue began meeting to figure out common ground. The mayor and some councilors have been attending those meetings.
Marsh said the different sides successfully found areas of agreement, such as the importance of teaching children and parents about gun safety.
Marsh voted with Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Dennis Slattery, Rich Rosenthal and Mike Morris to block the ban.
Lemhouse said the ban would have affected law-abiding gun owners who haven't broken laws or committed crimes. He said gun violence such as school shootings in America have many causes, including the nation's broken mental health system.
Slattery said he hopes that people who favor and oppose gun control can find a way to come together, while Rosenthal said the ban on openly carrying loaded guns wouldn't achieve its objective.
"I just don't think this will make our community safer, although I wish it could," Rosenthal said.
Councilor Carol Voisin voted alone against the motion that blocked the ban.
She said councilors previously had watered down a stronger proposal brought forward by residents concerned about rampant gun violence.
"We gutted it ourselves," Voisin said.
One of the stronger proposal's provisions required gun owners to store their weapons in a manner to prevent unauthorized access by minors. State law prevents local jurisdictions from adopting regulations on gun storage.
City Attorney Dave Lohman had said gun storage regulations could invite expensive lawsuits against the city. That caused a council majority at an earlier meeting to decide against considering that provision.