Thursday April 25, 2013

STOCKBRIDGE -- The hot-button issue of gun control and Second Amendment gun rights will be discussed and debated at this evening’s Four Freedoms Forum town hall meeting in the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Panelists include Stockbridge Police Chief Richard B. Wilcox and veteran Berkshire Eagle writer Clarence Fanto. Boston Globe reporter Brian MacQuarrie, originally scheduled, had to cancel because of his continuing coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The 5:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public. A question-and-answer session will follow the speakers’ brief presentations.

Wilcox, the Stockbridge chief for 28 years and a police officer in the town for 42 years, said he regretted that the museum’s multiple invitations to gun-rights advocates to join the panel had been unsuccessful.

"My hope is for a fairly balanced discussion on the broader issue of the gun culture and the American culture that makes firearms such a different issue than it was years ago," said Wilcox, noting that Massachusetts is "fairly unique in its restrictions on firearms and its licensing issues."

Anticipating an informal discussion, Wilcox said that he "always wants to hear opposite opinions in order to defend the positions I may take. My role is as a person in law enforcement. If I have to, I can step outside that and take another role. We’ll have to see how it unfolds."

The Stockbridge chief also stated that he was "very disappointed" by the U.S. Senate’s failure to approve any gun-safety measures last week.

"I just can’t see the reasons for the opposition, it doesn’t make any sense," he said. "It has to be based on fear of the National Rifle Association, and it’s interesting that they exert so much influence."

Fanto, associated with The Berkshire Eagle since 1987 and currently a contributing reporter and columnist, plans to summarize the arguments made by gun-rights advocates against enhanced background checks and other proposals that failed to win the necessary 60-vote supermajority for passage in the Senate last week.

Before he had to cancel his appearance, MacQuarrie observed that "the gun debate has taken on an incredible emotional urgency across the country in the wake of the Tucson, Aurora and Newtown shootings. But the feelings on both sides are so closely held, and so strong, that common ground on even incremental compromise seems a monumental challenge.

"Despite these hurdles, dialogue is always a good thing, and events such as the Four Freedoms Forum, replicated across the country, can play an important role in fostering a greater appreciation of the issues and principles at play in this debate," he continued.

Upcoming discussions in the Four Freedoms Forum series include "Youth, Identity and the Media" on Thursday, July 25, and "A Nation Divided: Getting Past the Impasse," on Thursday, Nov. 15. Both start at 5:30 p.m.

The series is named for Norman Rockwell’s famous "Four Freedoms" oil paintings completed in 1943 and reproduced as covers for the Saturday Evening Post.