Delegation weighs in on gun control

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the debate over gun control again simmering in the wake of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, the three members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation reiterated their beliefs that individual states should maintain their ability to shape their own firearm laws.

James Holmes, a 24-year-old graduate student, was formally charged on Monday with 24 counts of first degree murder — two each for the 12 people he allegedly shot dead in a crowded Aurora movie theater that was screening a midnight premier of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” Holmes is also accused of injuring dozens of other people in the theater after allegedly spraying the crowd with bullets fired from three separate kinds of firearms, including a semiautomatic variation of the M-16 rifle, a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun and at least one .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol.

In all, Holmes faces 142 criminal charges in connection with the incident.

The nature of the crime has resurrected discussion in Washington about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and whether gun laws should be tightened.

The Addison Independent asked members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation to state their views on gun ownership. Here is how they responded:

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.:

“There are no simple solutions to preventing tragedies like this. As a former prosecutor, I know that our state and local law enforcement officials do their very best to ensure the public’s safety. As a Vermonter and supporter of the Second Amendment, I recognize, as the Supreme Court did, that sensible rules can coexist with our constitutional rights. States and localities know what works best in their communities, and I believe in protecting the freedoms of each state to enact their own firearms laws. There are many firearms laws on the books at the local, state and federal levels, and every reasonable effort should be made to enforce existing laws as sensibly and effectively as possible. For example in recent years there was a good-faith, bipartisan effort to improve the availability of mental health records in the existing firearms background check system. More can also be done to help empower families and communities to identify those who are suffering, often silently, from mental illness.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

“In my view, decisions about gun control should be made as close to home as possible — at the state level. If the Vermont Legislature and the governor want to go forward with gun control they have the opportunity to do that, though I’m not aware that there is any great inclination in Vermont to do so. If the state of Colorado, where a terrible tragedy has taken place, wanted to go forward on gun control, they also have the right to do that.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt:

“A national consensus on the best approach to gun violence in America has been elusive at best. In Vermont, we have a proud tradition of responsible gun ownership and a low incidence of gun-related violence. I believe Vermonters should determine the policies in this area, not Congress. But we ought to, as a nation, be able to find a way to keep assault weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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