Friday, March 15, 2013

Crossover Day in the Vermont State House has passed...

We left the Vermont State House late this
afternoon and none of the gun control bills
that have been introduced thus far have
had any movement this year. 

Today was Crossover Day, so though it is
not impossible that these gun bills could
see action this year, there is very little
danger that it could pass both houses
this year. Be proud, you have done well.

We will continue to very closely monitor
what is happening in the state house.
Below is a story from the Valley News that
gives an idea of the situation. 
Gun Control In Vermont: Not This Year

By Mark Davis

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2013
(Published in print: Friday, March 15, 2013)

As Vermont lawmakers today mark the unofficial halfway point
in the legislative session, advocates have all but given up
hope that any gun control bills — even one that a state
senator dubbed the "least ambitious" gun law that could be
proposed — will be enacted this year.

The lack of action comes despite recent developments that
would seemingly bolster the case for gun control:

?  A recent poll from Castleton State College showed that 61
percent of Vermonters favored banning the sale of assault
weapons, 66 percent favored banning high capacity ammunition
clips, and 75 percent supported closing the so-called gun
show loophole.

?  A Town Meeting resolution urging lawmakers to pursue gun
control passed — by sometimes overwhelming margins — in 6 of
the 7 towns where it was proposed.

?  Even the United States Senate, maligned as a bastion of
dysfunction, has taken action:  The Senate Judiciary
Committee yesterday passed an assault weapons ban that would
forbid sale of firearms and limit clips of high capacity
ammunition to 10 rounds.

But in Vermont, lawmakers have failed not only to pass any
gun laws or even take a vote, but also have failed to
advance any gun bill for a committee hearing.

"The minute you walk into the Statehouse, it's almost a
forbidden topic," said State Rep.  Linda Waite Simson,
D-Essex, a veteran gun control advocate. "That's the way
it's always been.  It's very discouraging to see that.  I
was in a small meeting where a representative said, 'Please
don't make me vote on guns, it's worse than civil unions.'
That's how a lot of representatives are feeling —

Next Year, Maybe

Today is Crossover Day in the Statehouse, when non-spending
bills must be voted out of one chamber and sent to another
to have a chance of being enacted this year.  But lawmakers
and advocates say no gun control bill will come up for a
vote until the next session, at the earliest.

State Sen.  Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, entered a bill earlier
in the session that would make it a crime for failing to
safely secure firearms inside homes with children.  That
bill hasn't received a hearing, and none is scheduled.  In a
recent interview, McCormack could not even recall which
committee had jurisdiction over his bill.

"It's admittedly the least ambitious of all gun related
bills, and it's not getting a lot of action," McCormack
said. "There has not been much interest in my bill."

But McCormack said that he understood lawmakers' reluctance.
Before a few years ago, McCormack, generally one of the more
liberal members of the legislature, said that he told voters
during his re-election campaigns that he would not pursue
any gun control laws.  For much of his political life,
McCormack said he did not believes that guns were a serious
problem in Vermont, and that pursuing any legislation would
stir large opposition in hopes of solving a relatively small
problem.  Over time, as the U.S. has seen more mass killings
and as Vermont guns have been blamed for shootings in other
locations, McCormack said he evolved to support some gun
control measures.

"My position was based mainly on the idea that we're a very
safe state and so there wasn't a problem in need of fixing,"
McCormack said. "There wasn't a need so great to justify a
fight.  I'm not afraid of a fight, but I'm not a masochist.
I'm not going to invite public hostility for the fun of it.
(But) we are only one lunatic away from that argument
blowing up in my face, and I don't think I could live with
myself.  We're becoming the arsenal of the thugs of New
England and New York.  I think we have to take some
responsibility for that. "

On Town Meeting day, voters in six Upper Valley towns —
Strafford, Bradford, Woodstock, Norwich, Hartland, and
Thetford — approved resolutions urging lawmakers to enact
gun control laws, including mandatory background checks for
all gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons, and enhanced
penalties for so-called "straw purchasers."

State Rep.  Jim Masland and Margaret Cheney, Democrats who
represent Norwich, Sharon, Strafford, Thetford, said that
while they supported the background checks and the straw
purchaser crackdown, they have some reservations about an
assault weapons ban.

"It's problematic in that it's easy to say, 'I know one when
I see one,' but if you actually define them in words, it
becomes difficult," Masland, of Thetford, said.

Cheney agreed.

"We have to define what an assault weapon is," Cheney, of
Norwich, said. "I don't favor banning guns per se.  We have
to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and were we to
ban military style things designed to kill as many people as
possible as quickly as possible.  But (some) semi-automatic
rifles are used to kill deer."

Cautious Legislature

Nonetheless, Masland said the Town Meeting votes sent a
strong message, at least for some legislators, that their
constituents supported a gun control crackdown.

"That's a clear message that Vermonters want something done
about gun violence," Masland said. "All of us in the
Legislature recognize ... the legitimate pleadings of our
constituents who have had guns in their family for
generations and never hurt anyone.  I'm not trying to evade
the issue. 'Yet to be seen,' that's a good way to put it.
It's a two-year biennium, and if it doesn't happen this
year, it doesn't mean it won't happen.  It takes quite a
while for a lot of things to go through the Legislature when
they are important."

Norwich resident Laurie Levin, who helped petition the gun
control article onto the Town Meeting ballot, said her
loose-knit coalition will spend the next few months trying
to organize gun control groups in more communities, with an
eye toward pushing legislation in next year's session and
awakening what she believes is a "silent majority" of
residents in Vermont who favor gun control.

"There hasn't been a big open debate on the floor of the
House and Senate, but it doesn't mean there won't be in the
future.  It's something people are talking about," Levin
said. "What we have to do is let (legislators) know that
they don't have to be afraid, that there are a majority of
Vermonters who support them, and they don't have to worry
about losing their positions.  We have to have that silent
majority speaking up."

A slew of bills were introduced this year, including
measures that would require background checks for gun show
purchasers, ban semi-automatic weapons, ban silencers and
require a 48-hour waiting period for gun sales.  None
merited a hearing.

Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of
Sportsmen's Clubs, said that is for a good reason:  The
proposed laws were based on emotion, he said, not sound

"That's the committee process — they take up the bills in
the priority that they place on them," Hughes said. "There's
a lot of emotionalism about this issue, and legislation
passed in emotional arguments is not sound public policy."

Hughes said state lawmakers should defer to the federal
government so that the 50 states can have uniform gun laws.

Message Being Heard

State Rep.  Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, who introduced in
the House the gun safety bill that McCormack entered in the
Senate, was more optimistic that lawmakers would take
action, and said the poll results and the Town Meeting votes
would help build momentum for gun control measures.

"I think the support for the article combined with the
Castleton poll will send a message to the legislators and
governor," Clarkson said."There's lots of conversation about
it.  There's plenty of discussion going on.  I think the
House is ready for this.  I have some hope.  A bill is just
a starting point for a committee.  We're limited on time and
hope.  We're not limited on courage.  I would be
disappointed if the Legislature took no action this

Gov.  Peter Shumlin's office did not respond to requests for
comment.  Shumlin merited a 92 rating from the National
Rifle Association last year, and said that he did not
support a ban on assault weapons or high capacity ammunition
or closing the so-called gun show loophole.  Shumlin
recently said, however, he would support a federal assault
weapons ban.

Vermont is one of four states that allows residents to carry
a concealed firearm without a permit.

The inaction in Montpelier comes as the U.S.  Senate
Judiciary Committee has approved gun control legislation in
recent weeks.  Yesterday, on a 10-8 vote, the committee
chaired by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, approved a bill
banning the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of
certain assault weapons.  (The measure is given little
chance of passing the Senate, let alone the
Republican-controlled House of Representatives.  )

In recent days, the committee has approved three other gun
control measures introduced in the wake of the mass shooting
at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown,
Conn., that left 20 children dead.  Included is a bill that,
for the first time, made it explicitly illegal yo engage in
straw purchasing, buying firearms for a person who is
prohibited from obtaining one.

"What we have accomplished in our committee work has been
difficult, but we have not accepted that as an excuse to do
nothing," Leahy said. "We have listened to heart-wrenching
testimony.  We have opened the process to input from all,
and we have proceeded methodically to search for commonsense
answers to the recurring tragedy of gun violence."

Mark Davis can be reached at or