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Councilman's gun adds twist to politics in Boston

A Boston Town Board meeting was looking routine last month until Richard K. Hawkins, a former councilman and supervisor, fired his version of the shot heard round the world, or at least the Southtowns.

"Mr. Boardway," he asked Councilman Jay P. Boardway, "are you carrying your concealed weapon tonight as you have in the past?"

"I absolutely am," came the equally stunning reply from Boardway.

It was another contentious episode in the annals of Boston, the 194-year-old town in Southern Erie County that was fractured late last year by the cancellation, and eventual signing, of fire contracts between the town and fire companies.

Politics can be brutal in the rural town, where owning guns, or hanging a shotgun in a pickup window is not unusual.

Still, a gun-toting councilman raised a few eyebrows.

"I've carried a weapon basically to every meeting I've been to; I carry it all the time," Boardway told The Buffalo News.

Boardway, a life member of the National Rifle Association, said he has carried a hand gun, usually a 9mm Kahr subcompact semiautomatic, for 15 years. He got a firearm for personal protection when he was making bank deposits at a former job.

With elected officials targeted in recent gun violence, many local officeholders have wondered about their safety while performing public duty, even if they don't own a firearm.

A gunman opened fire Dec. 14 at a meeting of the Panama City, Fla., school board. A guard exchanged gunfire with the shooter, who then killed himself.

Jan. 8, six people were killed and 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, were wounded during a public outreach session Giffords was holding in Tucson, Ariz.

The Arizona shootings had an effect on Boardway.

"It strengthened my resolve, to tell you the truth," he said. "It just goes to show these kinds of things can happen unexpected, without rational reason."

Hawkins said he is not against the Second Amendment, but he doesn't like the idea of people carrying guns in Town Hall, a violation of a town ordinance.

"It's usually not the people who have the permits you have to look out for," Hawkins acknowledged.

Boardway said he obtained an unrestricted gun permit, allowing him to carry a concealed weapon, in 1995. In addition to wanting the gun for protection, he has another, more philosophical reason.

"I'm a strong believer in the Second Amendment and your right to carry a firearm," he said.

He was elected councilman in Boston a year ago. But he was unaware of the town ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms on town property, without permission of the Town Board, until Hawkins brought it up.

Before asking Boardway if he carried a weapon, Hawkins asked other board members if they had given him permission.

"He's been carrying it for a year, violating the law," Hawkins said. "I don't care who you are, whether you're a senator or a councilman; the law is the law."

Boardway, a licensed workers' compensation representative, said the issue is political, brought up after the town canceled but later approved a contract with fire companies.

Hawkins, the president of Patchin Fire Company, said that, on the night of the emotional December public hearing on the fire contracts, two residents noticed Boardway had a gun when he took off his jacket after the meeting.

He said he did not mention it publicly until last month because he did not want to jeopardize the fire contracts.

"I did not bring it up until after the fire contracts were settled. I did not want them to start anything with the fire contracts until it was over," he said.

He said allowing Boardway to carry a gun on town property opens up the door for other residents who want to do likewise.

Boardway said two residents told him they, also, carried concealed weapons to the board meeting.

"I really, truly do not feel we should have to be packing weapons at Town Board meetings," Hawkins said. "I think that's time to get out of politics."

Boardway said he is concerned about the safety of Town Court and other town employees who come in contact with the public.

And he's also legal, now, when he goes to Town Hall. The Town Board gave him permission to carry his gun.

Boardway said he was disappointed Hawkins asked him during a public meeting because the idea of a concealed weapon is that it is out of sight.

"I never meant it to be a great big public show," he said. "I carry a weapon, and nobody needs to know that."

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com