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Vermont House approves gun restrictions as opponents look on

Gun control opponents wearing hunter orange pack the gallery in the Vermont House of Representatives on Tuesday in Montpelier, Vermont.

Wilson Ring, Associated Press

We don’t think we would be too far out of line in describing our neighbors to the east as rugged individualists who don’t like being told what to do.

That’s what makes the events in the Vermont Legislature over the past month so unusual.

The day after the Parkland High shooting in Florida on Feb. 14, Vermont police broke up what they said was a plot by a Poultney teenager to shoot up the Fair Haven Union High School.

That’s just 30 miles from Glens Falls, just nine miles from Whitehall.

That hits home in a lot of ways.

On Feb. 22, Gov. Phil Scott, who had consistently rebuffed attempts at gun restrictions in Vermont, issued a five-page memorandum to the Legislature asking them to take action to make the state safer. He admitted the Poultney incident had left him rattled. Scott’s memo included plans for school safety measures, as well as a series of restrictions on guns that allow police to confiscate firearms from suicidal individuals — with a court order — and take guns from individuals involved in domestic violence.

Last Friday, the Vermont House debated those measures — and some others — for 10 hours.

They went at it again on Tuesday for another six hours before finally passing a measure to expand background checks, ban bump stocks, have a 10-round limit on high capacity magazines and raise the gun purchasing age to 21.

The vote passed, 89-54.

When a local television reporter asked Scott what he had to say to his supporters who do not agree with these measures, he said, “It is not lost on me that I disappointed many of my supporters, and I understand that. It is a tremendous responsibility as governor to make sure that you protect the citizens of the state, so this isn’t an easy decision to make.”

Vermont is having the type of discussion we wish Congress would have. It’s the same conversation the Florida Legislature had.

It’s what the “March for Our Lives” in Washington was all about this past weekend. It was about seeing if legislative bodies across the country could take a hard look at this issue and come up with pragmatic solutions.

Vermont actually did that.

What is so surprising is that this debate occurred in a state with some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. The state doesn’t issue or require a permit to carry a weapon openly or concealed. Gun dealers are required to keep a record of handgun sales, but that is about it.

Vermont’s rich heritage of outdoor sports and pride in its rural traditions is similar to those in upstate New York.

It proved the conversation can occur anywhere.

What impresses us about the debate in Vermont is not so much the result, but the way the Legislature addressed this very complex and emotional issue.

Gov. Scott and the Legislature identified where the real dangers lie. No one was screaming to eliminate the Second Amendment. They stuck with measures that might make citizens safer.

Over a five-year period, 90 percent of Vermont gun deaths were due to suicides, and half the homicides were incidents of domestic violence carried out with firearms. That’s where the Legislature concentrated its efforts.

They directly addressed both issues by giving police the authority to seize firearms — with a judge’s order — from those who are suicidal, while also allowing police to seize weapons in cases of possible domestic violence, with a quick hearing to justify the seizure.

Those are smart, common-sense actions that address the vast majority of the firearm dangers and could make a big difference in suicides and domestic violence. The Vermont Senate and House are now reconciling two similar bills. They hope to complete that soon so the Senate can vote. If it passes the Senate, it will go to Gov. Scott to be signed into law.

When that is done, the Legislature will take on school safety measures as the second part of addressing this complex problem of school shootings.

The way Vermont has addressed this issue should be an example to governing bodies all across the country.

The reality is that other states might come to different conclusions after long and hard debate, but they need to do what Vermont did — have the conversation rationally and without the rhetoric that has defined this debate for too long.

Post-Star editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Publisher Robert Forcey, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representatives Carol Merchant, Eric Mondschein and Bob Tatko.

Post-Star editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Publisher Robert Forcey, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representatives Carol Merchant, Eric Mondschein and Bob Tatko.

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