Burlington should encourage other towns and cities around the state to propose their own charter changes related to firearms, the Vermont legislature's leading gun-control advocate told a city council committee on Monday.
"The more towns you have presenting charter changes on this, the more it will prod the legislature to do something," said State Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson (D-Essex Junction). She added that it will be more difficult for the legislature to reject a charter change related to gun control if other municipalities join Burlington in advocating such regulations.
The city council's charter change committee is hearing testimony related to a proposed ordinance that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips in the city. The full council voted 10-3 in favor of further considering a resolution containing those restrictions that was offered in January by City Councilor Norm Blais (D-Ward 6).
He and the other two members of the charter-change committee seemed receptive to Waite-Simpson's suggestion. Councilor Tom Ayres (D-Ward 7) said it would be vital to "try to have rational and respectful discussions" with residents of the Northeast Kingdom, "where there's bound to be opposition" to gun control of any sort.
Waite-Simpson (pictured) noted she has received assurance from legislative leaders that the issue will be taken up in local meetings after the current session ends. The hope is that consensus can be reached on some aspects of gun control, she said. Waite-Simpson's own set of proposed regulations never got to the floor of the Vermont House despite the emotional upwelling that followed a lone gunman's massacre of 26 first-graders and educators in Newtown, Connecticut, late last year.
Many Vermonters' resistance to any restrictions on guns remains unyielding, Waite-Simpson said. She cited two examples of the state's status as an outlier.
Vermont's laissez-faire attitude regarding concealed weapons is unique, Waite-Simpson said. No other state allows residents as young as 16 to carry a gun, concealed or openly, without parental permission and without a permit of any kind.
The absence of laws on safe storage of guns also highlights Vermont's hands-off approach, Waite-Simpson said. "You'll be charged with negligence if you leave your 8-year-old in the bathtub and he drowns," she noted, "but you won't be if you leave your 8-year-old alone in a room with a loaded gun and something happens."
Referring to the city council's proposal to ban semi-automatic assault rifles, which are already restricted for hunting, Waite-Simpson told the committee, "Patrick Leahy said it best: 'We do more to protect our deer herd than our children.'"
With gun violence having resulted in the deaths of a few of her constituents in recent years, Waite-Simpson insisted she is in this battle to stay, despite the political firepower wielded by her opponents. "Slowly," she remarked on Monday, "we're starting to turn the ship in a different direction."
Burlington resident Ian Galbraith, a defender of the right to possess semi-automatic weapons, commented at several points during the committee meeting. "Vermont gun owners have a long history of being responsible with their guns," Galbraith said. "We have an incredible mix of freedom and responsibility that is a model for the rest of the country," he added later in the hour-long session.
The charter change committee, which is chaired by Councilor Rachel Siegel (P-Ward 3), is scheduled to hear from Mayor Miro Weinberger on May 20. In the meantime, committee members intend to visit local gun shops in order to become better acquainted with a variety of weapons.