Editorial: How Vermont could lead the nation on gun control
As a rural state with a hunting culture and a fair number of gun-owning residents, Vermont could help lead the country toward sensible gun control legislation. Gov. Phil Scott led the way a year ago, in light of a planned mass school shooting at Fair Haven High School, when he flipped his previous beliefs and supported several modest gun control initiatives.
Hopefully, gun owners in Vermont can agree those measures did not unduly deprive citizens of their Second Amendment rights and concede that increased community safety is a worthy reason to seek compromise. For stirring visual optics, what’s needed today are gun owners across Vermont and nation to embrace measures that protect public safety as well as allowing the right of Americans to bear arms. It’s an argument that should go hand-in-hand, not in opposition to each other.
The right to bear arms, as courts have determined, is not without some restriction; the compromises to be made are achieving a respectful balance between what is reasonable gun ownership, and what types of weapons cross the line. We think nothing of banning hand grenades or bazookas, but somehow AK-47s and other assault weapons — which can kill dozens of people in a 30-second shooting spree, even with law enforcement present — have become the weapon of choice for mass murderers.
Our men in blue across the country have consistently fought the sale of assault weapons and have supported more gun control measures. That belief prevailed in 1993 and 1994, as former presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford encouraged a Congress partly controlled by Democrats to pass the Brady Bill in 1993 and a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994.
Ten years later, Republicans were in control of the House and were responsible for allowing the 10-year ban on assault weapons to expire during the first term of President George W. Bush. Today, it is the scarlet letter around that party’s neck, and it’s appropriate the party’s colors are blood-red.
It’s one of a host of single issues the GOP has shamelessly used for political purposes — this one, at the expense of the lives of thousands of Americans killed by gunfire each year — for the past four decades, and the consequences have only gotten worse with the election of a president who uses scorn, ridicule, racism, intolerance, xenophobia and hatred to stir the passions of the far-right and those prone to violence.
But even before Trump, there were ample signs that the increasing prevalence of assault weapons was having a profound impact: During the decade in which the assault weapons ban was in effect, according to Louis Klarevas in this book “Rampage Nation,” mass shootings totaling six or more deaths dropped by 37 percent and the number of deaths fell by 43 percent. Once the ban was lifted, however, mass shootings skyrocketed to a shocking 183 percent and there was a 239 percent increase in massacre-related deaths.
But unless “Moscow Mitch,” aka Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, changes his tune, gun control legislation is going nowhere. He has refused to take up any such legislation in the Senate and unless the public can bring enough pressure on him, it will be unlikely to see any progress on the issue.
What might such political pressure look like?
Imagine a gun-control rally on the steps of Vermont’s capital with gun owners and NRA members, accompanied by Gov. Phil Scott and a bipartisan mishmash of other supporters, championing legislation calling for three things: a ban on assault weapons, closing any loopholes with gun registration and universal background checks, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. Those gun owners could make a reasonable pitch that such measures were being made to achieve a safer environment for community, friends and their loved ones, as well as preserving the rights of individuals to bear arms.
That’s the voice of a moderate gun owners: of hunters who are proud of their heritage, but recognize that in the hands of the wrong people assault weapons can kill too many people too quickly; of those concerned for their own personal safety, but recognize that gun registration helps keep communities safe; and of sportsmen who love using various weapons, but can agree that some restrictions are appropriate and help prevent the nation’s slide toward a nihilistic anarchy.
It’s a voice that if heard quickly, and picked up in other moderate states, could help change the tone across the country, reflect well on gun owners, and brand Vermont as a place of reason and love of community. That’s leadership in which the broader community comes first — a notion that seems out of favor in these times, but speaks to the heart of Vermont and sends a resounding message of goodness and hope from a state bold in its ideas and values.