Burlington Council Takes Up Gun Ban Resolution

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 UPDATE at 7:03 a.m. ET: Burlington City Council approves weapons ban.

The right to bear arms is the law of the land. But after an unprecedented series of shooting rampages last year, some state and local governments are now considering bans on assault weapons on their streets. Burlington’s City Council will vote Monday night on a charter change that would prohibit certain weapons in Vermont’s largest city.

Vermont state statute blocks such bans, but that isn’t stopping some Burlington City Council members. They’ll consider a strongly-worded resolution that essentially asks for an exception to the state law. They’ve proposed a charter change that would ban semi-automatic assault weapons and multiple ammunition clips in the city.

"In the absence of legislation from Washington and perhaps the absence of legislation from Montpelier, we’re left with a situation where we have to act locally," says City Councilor Norm Blais, who drafted the resolution.

In December, 20 children and six of their teachers were killed in the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Blais says that tragedy hit too close to home not to do something.

"Geographically it was the first time that there was an event of that magnitude close to Vermont," Blais says. "But secondly, having that event happen with first graders has a real impact on people."

Blais and other city leaders say the tragedy in Newtown should give them power to regulate high-powered weapons.

"A person could be walking up to one of our elementary schools with an AK-47 fully loaded strapped to his or her back and the police would be powerless," he argues. "I think when people realize that that’s the state of the law, their reaction is, ‘Well, let’s cure that and let’s come up with a remedy.’"

Seeking Support From The State

It seems Burlington might have a hard time persuading the governor, though.

"We’re not an island," says Governor Peter Shumlin, who has long said Vermont should take charge on certain issues – from same-sex marriage to single-payer health care. "We should lead when the federal government won’t."

But speaking to reporters last week in Montpelier, Shumlin argued any remedy for gun violence – even in the wake of Sandy Hook – needs to come from Congress.

"I believe that the solutions to our challenges are for all 50 states to have the same rules applied to them," he said. 

Asked repeatedly whether he thinks some restrictions should be made on gun sales in Vermont, Shumlin dodged a barrage of questions, saying it’s the federal lawmakers’ job to fix.

"Let’s see what they come up with," he said tersely.

If Burlington City Council approves the resolution, voters could weigh in on the issue when they go to the polls in March or in 2014. Any charter change would also require the approval of the Legislature.

Is your town discussing gun control? Do you think this should be a local issue? Post your comments below.

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