Editorial: Governor Scott’s bold support of gun control tests Democrats’ ability to deliver
“We will remember in November.” That was the political threat gun-rights leader Ed Cutler issued to Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, in the wake of the governor’s gutsy and stunning announcement this past week that he was determined to “do all he could do” to prevent a mass shooting at a Vermont school.
“If I have to pay a political price for this, I’ll endure it,” he said in his announcement. “I just know that this is the right thing to do… I would have a difficult time living with myself if something like this happened in Vermont and I hadn’t done anything to prevent it.”
It was not empty rhetoric.
Gov. Scott has surpassed even the expectations of moderate Democrats by advocating several common sense measures, including: gun confiscation bills that would empower law enforcement officers to take weapons from people who pose an “extreme risk” to themselves or others (one bill of which passed the Vermont Senate late Wednesday); banning bump stocks; raising the legal age to buy a guy from 18 to 21; appropriating $5 million for school security grants; possibly banning the sale of high capacity magazines; and he said he would “probably support” some version of a universal background checks bill.
Scott’s evolution came after reading the troubling affidavit of 18-year-old Jack Sawyer, the teen who had purchased a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Rutland, with the alleged intent to kill as many students as possible at Fair Haven Union High school. That intent, which was fortuitously prevented, has shocked Vermont’s governor and Legislature into action.
That’s great news for Vermont, and Gov. Scott’s proposed measures, if passed, would be a groundbreaking achievement.
But it won’t be easy.
Just as students and parents around the state take up the call to action — all to avoid further mass shootings in our schools — the forces against such laws are ginning up their supporters, usually under bogus claims that the Second Amendment is being eroded.
Ed Cutler is one such foe.
As president of Gun Owners of Vermont, he is using Gov. Scott’s call for reasonable gun-control measures to rile up his base and is intent on seeing Scott defeated in the next gubernatorial race. “As far as we’re concerned,” he told Seven Daysin a recent story, “he’s a one-term governor.”
But it’s not the governor who is the easiest target for gun-rights groups. Some political analysts believe Gov. Scott might benefit from his stance by gaining support from moderate Democrats, Independents and many reasonably minded Republicans (and any Democrat who runs against him is likely to adopt the same stance). Who it puts in jeopardy are House members who may be outgunned by the NRA and other pro-gun advocates in their re-election bids.
To that end, gun-control activists like the students, parents and teachers holding marches in the streets, and all gun-control supporters, need to let their state senators and representatives know where they stand and how important this issue is to them. They need to be ready to fight off pro-gun activists at that level — not just in a statewide conversation, but as a key issue in every House and Senate race across the state.
“I think it’s gonna be hard in the days leading up to that vote for us to pull people along,” Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford), a former majority leader, told Seven Days. “And I also think it’s going to be really hard on the campaign trail when the NRA money and the Gun Owners of Vermont work their people up into a frenzy. I mean, it is not fun to be in their sights.”
Then again, the political landscape on this issue seems to be changing. Due to the rise in mass shootings, particularly at America’s schools, the pendulum is swinging from America’s gun-obsessed culture to one seeking a more moderate balance.
And balance is what Gov. Scott, Vermont Democrats and other gun-control supporters are talking about. There is no discussion that would limit a responsible adult from owning a gun that would not be classified as a military-style assault weapon. And it would seem reasonable for any gun-owning patriot to admit that mass shootings in this country have gone too far; that our gun laws have become so lax than any disgruntled or lonely or mentally instable or suicidal person can too easily buy weapons that enable them to kill and injure dozens of people within minutes of opening fire.
Not mentioned by Gov. Scott is a consideration to ban or restrict the sale of assault rifles. And surprisingly, Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the largest sports retailers in the country, announced this Wednesday that their stores would no longer sell guns to people under 21, and would eliminate all sales of military assault weapons, such as the AR-15 and AK-47, throughout their group of retail stores. (WalMart also announced Wednesday that it not sell guns to people under 21.)
Edward W. Stack, CEO and chairman of Dick’s Sporting Goods, said in a statement that while the company extended its thoughts and prayers to victims of shootings, he knew “thoughts and prayers are not enough… Clearly (the recent shooting at Parkland, Florida) indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens.”
And that is the nut of the issue. What is currently in place is not working. Even the most ardent gun advocate has to agree that mass shootings should not be accepted as the “norm” in our culture. We must do better.
In Vermont, Gov. Scott has put gun control on the front burner with meaningful and decisive action. If the Democratic Legislature fails to pass bills this session that measure up to Scott’s leadership and courage, it will be a missed opportunity and a serious blow to the party’s stature.
PS. In late-breaking news Wednesday evening, President Trump stunned Republicans on live television Wednesday by declaring his support for several gun-control measures long opposed by the GOP and NRA. Among measures Trump supported were: comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the internet; keeping guns from mentally ill people; restricting gun sales to people 21 and over; and he opened the door to a ban on assault weapons. Call it a dramatic ploy by a media-savvy chameleon, it will nonetheless supercharge the debate and put pro-NRA policies under fire.
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