BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — Gun Sense Vermont founder Ann Braden is stepping aside as leader of the state’s leading gun control organization and has entered the Emerge Vermont program that trains women to be Democratic candidates for office.
Braden founded Gun Sense four years ago in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Connecticut. The group has since worked in tandem with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety to lobby for universal background checks in Vermont.
“The board of GunSense Vermont is exceedingly grateful to Ann for bringing us together and spearheading this work,” Clai Lasher-Sommers, acting executive director of GunSense, said in a news release from the group. “The people of Vermont owe Ann a debt of gratitude for opening the door to conversations and legislation that will ultimately improve public safety for all Vermonters, as well as people beyond its borders.”
Universal background checks have been a top priority of Braden’s group since its founding. During the 2016 election, every Democratic gubernatorial candidate voiced support for UBCs at a Montpelier rally.
Gun Sense communications manager Sharon Panitch talked with True North Reports about the organization’s future without Braden.
“We’re taking some time now to do some of the organizational framework because this was kind of built around her,” Panitch said. “That happens sometimes when leaders leave an organization. They sort of became a linchpin that held the organization together.”
Panitch hinted that state Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, would be back on the front lines of the gun control effort in the upcoming legislative session.
“I think he talked about it last summer that it was going to be introduced in this session — it’s the universal background check still,” she said. “That’s been our focus, [but] it’s to be determined how we are going to move forward.”
The news release states that Gun Sense “will continue to battle this country’s gun violence epidemic by advocating for universal background check legislation and keeping guns out of the wrong hands.” Vermont has a high rate of gun ownership and consistently ranks as the safest state the country.
Nevertheless, Gun Sense cites the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas as reason for advocate for more gun control.
Lawrence Hamel, a firearms instructor for the Vermont Outdoors Woman Program and a leading voice for gun rights, said he doesn’t support Braden’s politics.
“I wouldn’t vote for her and I would hope that she’s not elected into office, but that’s her prerogative to run, and if people want to elect her, that’s the democratic process,” he said.
Hamel did note that anyone in the state running as a candidate for gun control generally faces an uphill battle.
“Gun control in the state of Vermont is pretty much a poison pill in politics,” he said.
He added, however, that Brattleboro is “borderline Massachusetts” in terms of its left-leaning politics, which might work in Braden’s favor in a future run for a seat under Montpelier’s Golden Dome.
Noting that universal background checks will continue to be at the forefront of the Gun Sense agenda, Hamel it’s essentially unenforceable without a universal gun registry.
“If I say … I know you, let’s not do [a background check at the local federal firearms license dealer], that’s going to be a law that is obeyed by people who choose to obey it. And they charge $35 to do it,” he said.
“The only way universal background checks work, possibly, is if they have universal firearms registration.”
Hamel noted such a vast registration system would amount to a large bureaucracy with yet another nearly impossible task to enforce.
Panitch said she’s heard such arguments before, but added the current status quo for gun regulations is unacceptable.
“There are more guns per capita in this country, far and away, than any other country in the world,” she said. “I think the problem is that there are so many guns that people have increased access to them.”
Panitch said she hopes that the gun control debate can happen with civil dialogue.
“There are not a lot of people who can have sort of measured and thoughtful conversations about these issues,” she said. “A lot of people come out with knee-jerk responses … it can be a very emotional issue.”