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Guest editorial: Gun control crosses current of Vermont’s political tides

No state is more liberal than Vermont when it comes to its politics. And no state is more conservative than Vermont when it comes to its guns.
Raise my taxes.
Tell me where I can build my home and where I can’t.
Tell me which doctor I can visit.
But don’t touch my guns. Don’t tell me I can’t carry a concealed weapon. Don’t tell me that I can’t buy as many guns as I want when I want. Don’t tell me about a waiting period. Don’t tell me that my mental health should be a factor in being able to buy a weapon.
Don’t. Touch. My. Guns.
And so we won’t.
There are those in the Legislature who will try. A bill has been introduced by Senate Pro Tempore John Campbell that would make it a crime for violent offenders to own a gun. It would require universal background checks. And it would have our courts relay information to the FBI as regards issues of mental incompetence.
And it will go nowhere.
There is nothing unreasonable about Mr. Campbell’s intentions. According to the polls, most Vermonters view the proposal as being the stuff of common sense.
But for most politicians it’s kryptonite. The closer they get to it, the weaker they become. Their political stripe is irrelevant.
Gov. Peter Shumlin is opposed to Mr. Campbell’s bill. As were the governors before him.
Our congressional delegation — despite their liberal bona fides — have no appetite for a battle with gun owners.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, perhaps the most liberal member of Congress, unseated Rep. Peter Smith in 1990 to be Vermont’s representative in the House of Representatives. And he won, in no small part, because he was on the side of the gun lobby.
In Vermont, you don’t touch people’s guns. Everything else, but not their guns.
Part of this is cultural. Vermont is highly rural and guns have been part of the weave since the state’s beginning. And there are more country folk than city folk and the country folk aren’t about to let the city folks poke about their gun cabinets.
Part of it is just sheer political might. These are folk who don’t forget. Ever. And opponents are not viewed as half good and half bad. If you are in favor of restricting gun ownership at any level, then you are agin’ ’em. One hundred percent.
Most politicians have decided it’s not worth the fight.
For now, they are in a protected position. There is no real grassroots effort to strengthen Vermont’s lax gun control laws. If the public does not perceive a problem, then it’s hard to convince them that something needs to be done.
But what constitutes a “problem”?
It was September of 2013, when Anna Alger of Highgate confronted Matthew Webster of Swanton over a “road rage” incident on Main Street in St. Albans. Mr. Webster pulled out his gun and shot her dead. The weapon was one of three in his car, all loaded. And Mr. Webster had a history of mental issues.
Or, must we endure a tragedy like they did at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.?
It may be that no matter the challenge, those who oppose any restrictions on gun ownership will view the proposed regulations as being wrongly directed and unwittingly making the problem worse.
But there is also this: They don’t trust their representatives to stop where they say they will stop. They are convinced that all legislation leads to confiscation.
And the political liberals, of which we have more than our share, keep to themselves on this issue.
It’s so odd to watch these two political currents pulling in separate directions, all in the same state. It tells us, what?
— Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger

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