A Burlington City Council committee voted on Wednesday to remove a ban on assault weapons from a package of gun-safety proposals tentatively scheduled to be presented to the full council later this month.
The committee did agree to send to the council four local gun-related initiatives. They would require a police-issued permit in order to carry a concealed firearm; ban firearms in any establishment with a liquor license; enable police to confiscate any dangerous weapon in incidents involving allegations of domestic abuse; and mandate that firearms be securely stored when not in the immediate possession of a gun owner.
The committee’s rejection of the assault rifle ban potentially negates the council’s initial response to the slaughter last December of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The killer, Adam Lanza, used a type of weapon that would be covered by the ban that the Burlington council had urged in January be applied in Vermont’s largest city.
Councilors voted 10-3 on that occasion to instruct the body’s charter-change committee to draft an ordinance barring possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines within the city’s limits. Progressive Councilor Rachel Siegel (Ward 3) sided with the majority 10 months ago, but on Wednesday she voted against the proposed ban in her role as chair of the three-person charter-change committee.
Ward 7 Democrat Tom Ayres joined Siegel in voting to excise the assault weapons ban from the set of gun-safety measures before the committee. Democrat Norm Blais (Ward 6), the sponsor of the proposal, voted to retain it.
“I’m one who usually embraces pragmatism in politics, but I feel here we’re elevating pragmatism over principle,” Blais said. Commenting in response that she often votes on principle and not pragmatically, Siegel acknowledged that her stand on the issue in the committee represented a “role reversal.” She said state lawmakers have told her that the legislature will be more likely to approve Burlington charter changes related to other gun controls if the assault weapons ban is not part of the package.
“I don’t personally know why anyone would need to own one of these,” Siegel said in regard to assault weapons. “I don’t think they should exist, but that’s not my business. I don’t think internal combustion engines should exist, but I can’t ban them.”
Blais decried the committee’s move toward “compromising on these issues and getting nothing in return except the hope that this will be more favorably received by legislature.” The Democratic councilor rejected the claim that the assault weapons ban would jeopardize the state legislature’s approval of the four other local gun-safety initiative. And he denied he was engaged in a “quixotic effort” that would be “inviting the wrath of the gun lobby.”
The gun lobby was thinly represented at Wednesday’s committee meeting in city hall. Only two of a dozen members of the public in attendance spoke in opposition to any of the proposals backed by the committee. That placid scene in Contois Auditorium contrasted sharply with the council meeting in the same venue in January which was attended by about 100 opponents of the assault weapons ban — many wearing camouflage or blaze orange.
Police Chief Mike Schirling said following Wednesday’s session that he supports all the measures adopted by the committee. Schirling did express reservations about the concealed-carry permit, however, telling councilors that the Burlington police lack the resources to enforce it effectively.
Siegel said in response that she hoped the fee for the permit — to be set by the police — would cover the cost of the needed resources. “It would have to be pretty hefty,” Schirling replied, noting that it costs his department a minimum of $50,000 to add an employee.