The Burlington City Council covered a lot of ground in its meeting last night. It passed a second round of amendments to the city’s livable wage ordinance, approved a purchase power agreement related to the possible installation of solar panels off Sunset Cliff Road, and heard from members of the public once again about the basing of F-35s in Vermont.
But the items that generated the most public interest throughout the evening were four resolutions related to gun control, which had been proposed by the council’s charter-change committee and that came to vote by night’s end. The council passed three of the four.
The three successful resolutions will ban firearms in any business with a liquor license; require gun owners to store their weapons in locked containers; and allow police to seize firearms when domestic abuse is suspected. But by a 10-4 vote, the council struck down a measure that would have required individuals concealing firearms to carry a permit.
In two public forums leading up to that vote, some individuals — wearing green T-shirts provided by the gun-safety group Gun Sense Vermont — voiced their support for most or all of the measures. They pointed to recent school shootings, as well as the dangers of having guns readily available in homes, or in places where people are drinking to excess.
Don MacDonald, wearing green, said he had been a member of the Burlington police force from 1970 to 1978, and he remained on the fence about the concealed-weapon permit. But the other three measures were “no brainers,” he said. “These incidents are very fluid and very volatile and can explode very quickly, and police officers should have the option to remove firearms from a domestic disturbance.”
But opposition to the resolutions came from both in and outside the Queen City, and strongly. Wearing hunter's orange and waving flyers that said “No Burlington Gun Control,” the detractors used the majority of each public comment period to cite the sanctity of the American right to bear arms, the importance of self-defense and the impracticality of enforcing such measures.
“You’re in violation of state law. You’re in violation of federal law,” Clint Gray, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportmen’s Clubs, told the councilors. Describing himself as a member of the state police for 30 years, Gray said, “Your proposed ordinances will do nothing to prevent tragedies like Newtown, Connecticut. What it will do is escalate violence here in the city of Burlington. If you take away rightful gun ownership and suppress it, the people who go out there and commit crime will see it as a haven.”
Councilor Norman Blais (D-Ward 6), a member of the council’s charter-change committee, gave the strongest defense for the resolutions, explaining that they don’t violate state law and would, in fact, go to the state legislature for approval.
“Any suggestion that what we’re doing here is illegal is just absolutely wrong … I would suggest that all these resolutions that have been proposed will be constitutional,” Blais said. “The opposition, the fear, the threat is that if this passes in Burlington, then, by God, other Vermont towns might follow suit, and that is not a fear. In my perspective, that is a hope.”
Councilor Rachel Siegel (P-Ward 3), the charter-change committee member who had brought the resolutions before her peers, admitted that gun control is just one piece of the puzzle for preventing suicides and shootings. She pointed to mental health care as another important area that is largely outside the council’s purview.
In a press release shortly before the meeting, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced he would sign the three measures that did pass, but he stopped short of embracing either the concealed weapon permitting measure or a previously proposed assault weapons ban.
“I doubt the effectiveness of these measures … because these two particular reforms would create a patchwork of local regulation that would be problematic for responsible Vermont gun owners,” Weinberger said.
In the statement, Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling also expressed his support for the same three measures.