A large crowd was at City Hall Monday night for the last public hearing on three gun-control provisions proposed by the Burlington City Council.
The measures would allow police to seize guns, ammunition or any weapon from an alleged domestic abuser, ban firearms in bars or establishments with a liquor license, and require safe storage of guns when not in a person’s immediate control.
Ward Three Councilor Vince Brennan, a progressive, is one of the sponsors. He found that many of the people at the forum are Vermonters, but do not live in the city. “I can understand their passion for moving and keeping their gun rights. But I also feel like they’re confused with what we’re actually trying to do.”
Brennan says he respects hunters and hunter safety rules. “We’re looking for sensibility within the city limits. And I’m a little surprised at the opposition, but at the same, we’re willing to keep moving forward. I think the citizens of Burlington will be voting affirmative with these three provisions and then we’ll go on to Montpelier.”
Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs Vice President Evan Hughes is adamantly opposed to the measures, calling the proposals a direct attack on the Vermont Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights, which was adopted in 1988. “It protects all the aspects of gun ownership: shooting, hunting, ranges, fishing and trapping. The legislature has made it clear to the municipalities that they do not have the authority to regulate these areas. And if municipalities engage in their own ordinances we will end up with a patchwork of conflicting laws throughout the state.”
If voters accept the measures, they would change the city charter. And city charter changes must also be approved by the state legislature. Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna doubts the provisions will be approved in Montpelier. “Most lawmakers have not had the political will to re-engage in a debate over gun and gun ownership or about gun possession. And it’s tended to be a very divisive issue when the Legislature has looked at it in the past. And I think most legislators are going to be concerned about that slippery slope. If Burlington has gun laws, what’s the next town? Is Rutland going to want to have them? Is Montpelier going to want to have them? And I think the legislature is going to be very cautious before they allow a patchwork of different gun regulations throughout the state.”
Hanna believes the key point in Burlington is to make a political statement and put pressure on Montpelier to consider statewide gun control measures in light of shootings across the country. “I think what we’re seeing here in Vermont is not so different than what we see across the country. Which is that people who live in highly populated urban areas have different issues around gun and gun safety than do people who live in rural areas. It’s not uncommon for places like in Chicago to have more gun regulation than you have in rural Illinois. And I think we’re just seeing that political dynamic play out here in the state as well.”
Burlington voters will decide the fate of the provisions on Town Meeting Day in March.