Lawmaker’s Withdrawal of Gun Control Bill Disappoints Community Advocates
Over the past month several Vermont communities have been calling for tighter gun control. In the Upper Valley, petitioners are encouraging Vermont lawmakers to take up the issue. But the sponsor of the only gun control bill on the table says there isn’t enough support to move it forward.
That hasn’t stopped the debate.
Five days after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a group started meeting in Norwich to mourn, and to come up with a plan of action. One of the leaders is Laurie Levin, an attorney who specializes in conflict resolution. She says by the end of that first meeting, the group decided to circulate a petition. It urges lawmakers to "ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America, and make gun trafficing a federal crime with real penalties for straw purchasers, those who arm criminals."
The petition does not call for a municipal gun ban, which would not be allowed under state law. Rather, it calls for state and federal legislation. So Levin was "deeply disappointed" when she heard that Chittendon County state senator Phillip Baruth was withdrawing a ban on assault weapons that he himself introduced. Support, Levin says, may not be evident in the legislature – yet – but it is growing outside the Statehouse.
"I don’t get the sense that our leaders quite understand what is really in the hearts of the citizens of Vermont, and how the events of Newtown-it was a watershed moment," she said.
That was especially true for another member of Levin’s group, Joy Gaine, of Thetford. Her niece was murdered in Arizona by a man who also killed himself. She worries that if Vermont does not tighten restrictions on gun ownership, it could attract out-of-state gun show shoppers who may not always have their backgrounds checked.
"Well," Gaine said, " if other states have laws that are more restrictive they can just buy guns from states that don’t have a lot of restrictions, like Vermont."
Ed Cutler is Legislative Director for Gun Owners of Vermont. His group has taken what it calls a "no-compromise stand" against gun control. Cutler says federal law already limits gun sales to non-residents. And he says Baruth was, quote, "wise" to scrap his measure.
"It’s a very emotional issue and a lot of people in the legislature are hunters or gun owners," said Cutler.
In a 2001 survey cited by the University of Vermont, 42 per cent of Vermonters said they owned a gun. Cutler claims the number is much higher than that. He says his group had already gathered 5000 signatures on a petition that would have urged lawmakers to reject Baruth’s bill, and he notes that over 200 gun supporters rallied at the Capitol the day before Baruth withdrew it. On its website, Gun Owners of Vermont warns that, quote, "this issue is not over in Montpelier."
It’s not over for the municipal gun control supporters, either.
"We want to join forces with really, people who are hunters who do it as a sport, we want there to be a conversation so there can be some common sense legislation that’s put forth," Laurie Levin said.
Levin says President Obama’s support for gun control at his inauguration is encouraging her group to remain active. So far, Levin says petitioners in Norwich, Thetford, Strafford, and Woodstock have gathered the necessary signatures to put the article on their town meeting ballots.
Meanwhile, three Vermont mayors have called for tighter gun laws, and the Burlington City Council has approved a ban on assault rifles. In Congress, Senator Patrick Leahy has just introduced a bill to combat illegal gun purchasing and trafficking.