In his first public comments since a mass shooting in Connecticut two weeks ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday he'll support federal legislation being drafted by a presidential task force on gun violence.
"There can't be a human being in America who has seen the events of what happened in Connecticut and not recognize that we have to do everything in our power to bring some sanity to the availability of weapons of war to people who are unstable and crazy. Period," Shumlin said in an interview with Seven Days.
But Vermont's gun-toting governor cautioned that, "State-by-state solutions don't work," and said he wouldn't support efforts in the Vermont legislature to tackle gun violence at the state level.
"If they worked, we would've solved the problem already. We know that if one state has strict restrictions, you can go purchase an assault weapon at another state or gun show," he said. "So I fully support President Obama's and Joe Biden's urgency to come up with a 50-state solution that will work."
Shumlin, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, declined to say what approach he thought the federal government should take, but said it should be "multi-faceted" and include enhanced services for those with mental illness.
"You know, I'll be honest with you: Since I'm not at the federal level, I'm not spending a lot of time worrying about that. I've got to worry about Vermont's problems," he said. "But I will support whatever package they come up with to bend the curve on people who shouldn't have easy access to weapons of war."
Asked about Sen. Philip Baruth's (D-Chittenden) plan to introduce legislation in the Vermont Senate to limit the availability of semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines, Shumlin said he wouldn't necessarily discourage Baruth, but certainly wouldn't support him.
"I don't know what the legislation is, but I feel very strongly that we shouldn't be pretending to come up with solutions that won't work — pretending that we're solving the problem when we're not," Shumlin said. "Vermont doesn't have strong restrictions. Connecticut actually does. That answers your question: We are one nation. We have to have a 50-state solution."
But Shumlin says his position on banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines at the federal level — both expected recommendations of the presidential task force he supports — has not changed since the Connecticut school shootings. Instead, he says, he simply has "a heightened sense of urgency to stop this kind of tragedy."
"I've never been asked where I stand on an assault weapons ban on a federal level because I've never been in the federal government," he said. "In other words, I've always felt that any solution to getting guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them has to be a 50-state solution."
Despite the high ratings he's received from the NRA, Shumlin distanced himself Thursday from the group's proposal that armed guards should be posted at every school to prevent future shootings.
"I strongly disagree," he said. "You know, I'm a deer hunter, as you know. I've never used a semi-automatic weapon in my life. We have to understand that law-abiding sports-people like myself also have children and don't want them massacred in our schools. The solution is not to turn our schools into military fortresses. The solution is to get weapons of war out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them."
Shumlin added that he thought the NRA "should accept the invitation of the president of the United States and the vice president to come to the table to come up with some solutions."
Asked whether he thought a renewed focus on gun laws would ignite a culture war in a state with a strong hunting tradition, Shumlin said he doesn't believe so.
"I doubt it for the simple reason that Vermonters have a lot of common sense," he said. "I've hunted since I was 11 years old and I've yet to see someone wandering around the woods with an assault weapon in their hands. So we understand the difference between logic and a lack of common sense."
Shumlin is the first of four statewide officials to agree to an interview with Seven Days about whether and how the state and federal government should respond to the Connecticut shootings. The paper has made repeated requests to Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) since Monday, December 17, to discuss the matter.
"Not only would I vote for a similar law, I think there are a lot more senators in both parties who would today who might not have before," Leahy told Kinzel. "I look at the fact that we have in Vermont, sensibly, we limit the number of rounds you can have in a semi-automatic rifle during deer season. We ought to have some kind of limit otherwise. It seems almost as though we're saying we'll be more protective of deer than we are of people. And I dont think that's what Vermonters or America wants."