A sign on posted property in Attleboro warns against hunting, among other things.

It might seem surprising to some that a city of 40,000 — some people located in one of the most densely populated regions of the country, crisscrossed by major highways and dotted with housing developments and cul-de-sacs — could be seen as a prime hunting spot.

But that’s what a majority of the Attleboro Municipal Council decided in April when it shot down — at least for the time being — a proposed ordinance that would have effectively banned hunting in much of the city’s territory. The rule, defeated on a narrow 6-5 vote after a contentious — and some would say intimidating — public debate and hearing, would have prohibited hunting on city-owned property, where firearm use is already banned, and required hunters to get written permission from private property owners.

To many, those rules might seem reasonable — there aren’t many activities that allow people to come on your property without your OK — but they would fly in the face of many years of legal precedent and perhaps centuries of tradition.

(There’s also a question whether the original proposal would have passed muster at the state level, as agencies of the Commonwealth have the ultimate say on fish and game rules.)

But supporters of the ordinance proposal mostly stayed home when it was time to speak out while those most passionately invested — namely hunters — turned out in force at a public hearing held before the council vote.

Inevitably in these days of social media, the public debate turned increasingly intense.

As staff writer George W. Rhodes writes in this weekend’s front-page story, former city councilor and ordinance supporter, Roxanne Houghton — a current council candidate — said that she “felt threatened when a Rhode Island man told her in an online message she ‘should be put down like a rabid animal’.”

Houghton got a restraining order against the man and while the criminal case against him was dismissed, the Bristol County district attorney has until the end of this month to appeal the decision.

And while the ordinance was defeated in the spring, as hunting season gets into high gear, the controversy looks to become an issue in this year’s city elections with advocates and foes of the proposal due to face the voters, even though the proposal itself can’t be introduced until next year. When and if it is, we urge all of those involved to speak their minds on an important issue of public safety, while at the same time exercising restraint and respect for the other side’s point of view.

Meanwhile, we think both sides should hold their fire.

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