Unintended Consequences

by Jeffrey Kaufman, M.D.

Ballot Item #7 on this coming Tuesday’s Town Hall Meeting Day election seeks to change Burlington’s charter to ban firearms from bars, according to most published sources on the issue. Taken it at face value, this might seem a reasonable proposal. After all, who would want a drunk handling firearms? A reading of the actual language of the proposal, however, reveals it calls for something else entirely. In fact, an overwhelming majority of banned acts would criminalize behavior having nothing whatsoever to do with alcohol.

Consider the words on the ballot.

“…Ban on firearms in any establishment with a first class liquor license, which provides that no person may carry or possess a firearm in any location under the ownership or control of an establishment licensed to serve alcohol on its premises…”.

The ban pertains to establishments with a first class liquor license – bars, restaurants, cabarets, clubs and hotels. It goes on to prohibit firearms In ANY Location under the ownership or control of said licensed establishment. The language of the actual charter change resolution specifies the banned locations as being in “any building, or on any real property or parking area” under the ownership or control of an establishment licensed to serve alcohol on its premises”.

Now we understand the ban covers way more than firearms in bars. In fact, this charter change proposal would make a criminal of your neighbor who would go to the Price Chopper to pick up lunch on their way to the firing range to sight in their rifle for hunting season. This innocent act falls under this ban because the Price Chopper shares a parking area with the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, which carries a license (class 1) to serve alcohol on its premises. Patrons of the Hallmark store, Home Goods store, or TJ Max who lock a legally owned firearm in their vehicle while shopping would similarly be guilty of a criminal act. Obviously, these are acts having nothing to do with alcohol nor the establishment serving alcohol, except for shared real estate.

Shared building locations cause further unintended consequences. Imagine traveling from out of town to attend a conference or wedding at the downtown Marriott and staying overnight at the hotel. Their legally owned firearm locked in their hotel room’s safe would make these visitors guilty of a criminal act because the Marriott has a license (class 1) to serve alcohol on its premises. Innocent behavior having nothing whatsoever to do with alcohol or bars becomes a source of criminal guilt under this proposal.

This proposal was ill conceived as it targets many more unintended acts than those it intended to ban. Shared parking areas, buildings and real property in Burlington cover way more ground than individual bars. As written, this proposal is overly broad, far reaching, and jeopardizes innocent people who could be accused of criminal behavior due to the unfortunate language chosen for this proposal. Ballot item #7 must not be passed.