Gun control was up for debate at town meetings in seven Upper Valley communities. Voters were asked whether they want to urge state and federal lawmakers to ban assault weapons, require background checks for all guns sold in America, and make gun trafficking a crime.
Strafford’s classic white Town House, with its imposing steeple, was filled with voters eager to voice their views on all manner of topics-including gun control. Therese Linehan belongs to a group called Communities Against Assault Weapons, which began meeting shortly after the Newtown school shooting.
"Vermont has some of the least restrictive gun laws on gun sales and purchases in the country. We also have relatively low levels of gun violence. The three points in this article are aimed at federal activity and do not call on Vermont’s traditional sportsmen and women to change their practices," Linehan told the crowd.
But Linehan says the article does urge legislative action, a point emotionally echoed by Curt Albee, who also urged passage.
"If all that we accomplish by passing this article or even talking about this article is to send the message to our elected representatives that we have had enough and that we expect them to show some gumption and moral and political courage and do something…doing nothing is no longer acceptable," Linehan said.
But opponents argued that the federal government already requires background checks and punishes illegal traffickers. Mark Moran invoked the second amendment to the Constitution. He says guns protect against government tyranny.
"Amendment two specifies that the peoples’ only enforcement mechanism is their ability to keep and bear arms and form militia to protect those rights," Moran said.
Steve Cornell questioned whether a municipal gathering was the right forum for this discussion.
"I live in the lower village and this has been a fantastically spirited debate between friends of mine on both sides but to me it serves to prove one thing and one thing only, that maybe this doesn’t have a place in the town meeting, and it should be addressed through other avenues of our various levels of democracy but maybe not in a town meeting which I think should be more about roads and bridges," Cornell said.
But just in time for lunch, Strafford voters approved a slightly amended article promoting gun control. The final vote was 132 to 47.
The gun control article was also approved in Thetford, Hartland, Norwich, and Woodstock. In Bradford, official results from the clerk showing its defeat are being contested; the Select Board Chair says the article passed. It was tabled in Vershire. It will come up for a vote in Hartford on April 6.
Follow VPR’s coverage of Town Meeting Day 2013