In a year in which Vermont lawmakers passed controversial new gun regulations, all eyes are now on the electorate — and the electorate’s eyes are on the new Gun Owners of Vermont scorecard, which ranks candidates based on their loyalty to the Second Amendment.
In April, Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Legislature did the unthinkable in the Green Mountain State: imposed universal background checks, set low magazine capacity limits, banned bump stocks and raised the gun purchase age.
In all, 17 senators and 85 representatives voted for the changes found in S.55. The bill’s passage, said to be a necessary response to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, was announced to throngs of hecklers and some supporters.
But if Gun Owners of Vermont Vice President Bob DePino has his way, gun control in Vermont will soon return back to its “third rail” status. He is urging voters to use his group’s 2018 rankings to elect candidates — Republican or Democrat — who support the state’s longstanding gun freedom.
Highlights from the 2018 report include a listing of all 293 candidates. However, only 196 received scores for their positions on the Second Amendment.
In all, 85 candidates earned “pro” Second Amendment status, which DePino calls “a passing grade.” About 111 candidates are ranked as “anti” Second Amendment, while 83 candidates are considered “unknown” regarding their position on guns.
Some candidates received exceptional status: 53 candidates were said to be “strong pro 2A,” 53 candidates were ranked as “extremely anti-gun” and 21 were ranked as “rabidly anti-gun.”
DePino said the candidates seem to be geographically clustered together. “We have good candidates in Chittenden and Caledonia — that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s the other places that we don’t have anything.”
In Washington County, for example, two candidates ranked as “strongly pro 2A” — Chris Bradley of Northfield and Ken Alger of South Barre, both Republicans — are running for Senate. A third Republican, Dwayne Tucker of Barre, is ranked as “unknown.” The men are running against “rabidly anti-gun” Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, and “extremely anti-gun” Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington.
“There are a lot of people very upset with the governor and what the legislature did in really ramming through these [bills],” Bradley said. “We can say whatever we want, but there was never any public discussion.”
He said it could cost about $30,000 to run for office. “I’m not looking at this as money, I’m looking at this as how can I help my state,” he said.
In the Caledonia-2 district, Lawrence Hamel, a Republican from Hardwick, is running for a House seat. A gun trainer and development corporation owner who received a “strong pro 2A” ranking from Gun Owners of Vermont, Hamel has run two times already, but lost to incumbent Rep. Joseph Troiano, D-Stannard.
Hamel sees an opportunity to win, however, now that Troiano carries an “extreme anti-gun” ranking. He said he wasn’t sure about running, but S.55 and the cost of living and working in Vermont have persuaded him to try a third time.
“We had no gun control ever and the lowest gun crime rate in the country,” Hamel said. “This was a solution in search of a problem.”
Hamel said he has made recent investments into revitalizing deteriorated buildings in Hardwick, only to watch lawmakers rase the nonresidential property tax. He said if he is elected, he will work to make Vermont more affordable for residents and businesses.
In past races, Troiano defeated Hamel by fewer than 100 votes, out of about 2,000 votes cast.
“I think the people who have their minds set [are not going to change their votes],” Hamel said. “It all depends on these people who sit at home and swear at the TV but then not get out to vote.”
Hamel and Troiano are running uncontested for the Aug. 14 primary, meaning they will face off for the November election.
Find the full list of Gun Owners of Vermont candidates and rankings here online.