Last Sunday's gathering at the Warren Town Hall drew 50 people to learn about legislation which will be introduced to the Vermont Senate in January. The event, billed as a GunSense Brunch, was held on the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, CT.
Local hosts of the event, Eric Brattstrom, Carole Crossman, Carol Hosford, Dotty Kyle, Pam Lerner and Steve Willis, worked to create a forum for the dissemination of factual information and came away pleased with the result.
In attendance were all three Washington County senators, Ann Cummings, Bill Doyle and Anthony Pollina, as well as state Representatives Adam Greshin and Willem Jewett.
Ann Braden, president of GunSenseVermont, outlined the reasoning behind the need for legislation requiring criminal background checks for almost all gun sales or transfers in the state. As a young mother, she was galvanized into action after the Newtown massacre. She channeled her emotion into a statewide organization focused on heightening citizen awareness of the need for sensible, attainable criminal background checks for gun purchasers in order to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
Attendees learned that the Vermont Legislature will be taking up criminal background check legislation this winter.
Following the presentations, attendees asked questions and made remarks. The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of the proposed legislation. One representative of Circle, the domestic violence victims advocacy agency of Washington County, spoke eloquently about the need to keep guns out of the hands of abusive partners. A less known fact about Vermont is a problem not often discussed; between 1994 and 2012, more people were murdered with guns in domestic violence incidents than any other type of homicide in Vermont. Forty percent of defendants convicted in 2013 of felony domestic violence assault avoided jail time and are still able to easily purchase a gun.
"Federal law currently requires criminal background checks on all sales at licensed gun dealers; however, the law exempts sales at gun shows, auctions, flea markets and online sales. This loophole is no secret to criminals and due to the growth of online/meet-up gun sales, today 40 percent of all gun sales are unlicensed and completed without criminal background checks," Kyle reported.
A small group of dissenters, all but one of whom were local friends and neighbors, asked why Vermont needs this legislation, since Vermont is a safe state as it is. One questioned why people shouldn't be encouraged to arm themselves against "bad guys with guns" since the only response is a "good guy with a gun."
Participants learned that universal criminal background checks have widespread support statewide. Eighty-one percent of the general public and 77 percent of gun owners in Vermont say they support this reasonable violence prevention measure, according to recent polling by Lincoln Park Strategies.
Another suggestion, related to youth gun safety training, was raised by a father who has taught his children how to hunt safely. In closing, he wisely cautioned, "Keep your guns locked up!" The proposed legislation will not impinge on Vermonters' rights to hunting and outdoor recreation.
Organizers thanked those who contributed food as well as Jack Garvin of The Warren Store and Julie and Paul Burns of Three Mountain Cafe for their donations of cider and coffee.
Video of the proceedings can be seen next week on MRVTV.com.