By Alice Dubenetsky
“The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first” – Thomas Jefferson
This past week, in spite of dubious legal authority, the Burlington City Council made an incursion into the rights of lawful Vermont gun owners by attempting to limit the use of legal firearms within city limits. A public forum prior to the meeting was packed with supporters and opponents of new gun control laws in Burlington.
Three of four measures under consideration passed in the form of resolutions: a ban on guns in bars and restaurants; granting police the authority to seize firearms at the scene of a domestic violence incident; and a mandatory firearm storage ordinance. These three measures will be sent to the Charter Change Committee to prepare a proposal to amend the city’s municipal charter by including them as amendments. They will be presented to the voters for consideration at the city’s annual meeting in March 2014.
The Council failed in it’s bid to compel gun owners to obtain a mandatory permit to carry a concealed weapon in the city of Burlington. That measure failed on a 7-5 vote. In an interesting demonstration of realpolitick, Mayor Miro Weinburger, who had previously pushed for a city-wide “assault weapons” ban, suddenly announced that “after careful consideration” he opposed requiring concealed carry permits and an assault weapons ban “because I doubt the effectiveness of these measures and because these two particular reforms would create a patchwork of local regulation that would be problematic for Vermont gun owners.”
Weinberger’s pragmatic reversal does not mitigate his involvement with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The Mayor is a member of this political action coalition funded in part by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The group supports a number of gun control measures that it deems “commonsense reforms” but that gun rights advocates deem an outright assault on the 2nd Amendment. The group was instrumental in passing strict gun control laws in Colorado, promptly resulting in the successful recall of State Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron by angry Coloradans.
Many people in Burlington support the City Council measures, including Police Chief Michael Shirling, who believes they will provide new tools for law enforcement. Councilor Norman Blais, D-Ward 6 strongly supported the legality of the measures. “Any suggestion that what we’re doing is illegal is just wrong,” he said. “For someone to suggest this evening that what is being proposed is not reasonable regulation, I don’t think they’re facing up to the reality of what we’re talking about.”
Others disagreed, pointing out that gun control legislation only limits the rights of law-abiding citizens while doing little to diminish the capacity of criminals to commit crimes with legally or illegally procured weapons.
One speaker pointed out that in the wake of such emotionally charged events as the Newtown CT school shootings, “it’s easy to lose track of the rational, of logic, it’s easy to let our emotions direct our actions.”
Another speaker noted that he believes the legislation is more an issue of control than safety and that it’s actually about taking away rights and shredding the 2nd amendment.
Vermont has few restrictions on guns or gun owners. There are no permits required to purchase firearms, no licenses required to own a gun, no “assault weapon” laws and a permit is not required to carry a firearm, either concealed or openly. Anywhere you go, from Bennington to Burlington to Barton, the person next to you at the lunch counter, the grocery store or the gas station could be carrying a concealed weapon in their pocket or purse. Yet, we are among the most peaceful of communities, where people (for the most part) treat each other and their firearms with respect.
It’s also worth noting that Vermont has one of the lowest rates of firearms violence in the nation.
All that aside, it is constitutionally illegal for the City of Burlington to place any restrictions on firearms. The Vermont Constitution of 1777, which pre-dates the Bill of Rights, guarantees Vermonters right to keep and bear arms: “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State – and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.”
Just in case the State Constitution isn’t assurance enough, because cities like Burlington continue to make noises about instituting local restrictions (such as Mayor Wienburgers proposed “assault weapons” ban and his membership in MAIG) the Vermont legislature passed 24 VSA, Section 2295, known as The Vermont Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights, restricting the authority of municipal and county governments from regulating firearms, ammunition, hunting, fishing, and trapping. The law is quite comprehensive in it’s protection of Vermont gun ownership and rights, reading: “Except as otherwise provided by law, no town, city or incorporated village, by ordinance, resolution or other enactment, shall directly regulate hunting, fishing and trapping or the possession, ownership, transportation, transfer, sale, purchase, carrying, licensing or registration of traps, firearms, ammunition or component of firearms or ammunition. “
Gun control advocates are determined to bring their cause to the legislature, and at the very least, try to unwind the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights. Enacting any of Burlington’s newly proposed laws would require a change in the city charter, which requires legislative approval. Without the backing of Governor Shumlin, who has historically been a supporter of the 2nd Amendment and of Vermonters gun rights, that approval might seem unlikely. However, Shumlin recently stated his opinion that gun control should be a “fifty state” solution – in other words national gun control, which should leave gun rights advocates uneasy about his steadfastness in defending the 2nd Amendment and Vermont’s own constitutionally enshrined right to bear arms.