From left: Rep. Ben Joseph (D-North Hero), House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton)
At a town hall meeting in Milton Tuesday evening, Vermont House leaders got plenty of feedback about their efforts to prevent gun violence. Most of those in attendance said they don’t like the political shift in Montpelier that led both the House and Senate to pass gun-control legislation last week.
“It’s a done deal, as far as I can see,” said Lee Morgan, who said the legislature plans to force such measures through without listening to citizen feedback.
Morgan said the bills would get approval from Gov. Phil Scott, who he called “Governor Benedict Arnold” in a reference to the infamous Revolutionary War traitor. Many pro-gun speakers went out of their way to slam Scott for his recent reversal on guns, which the governor has said came about as he read an affidavit related to a recently foiled school shooting plot in Fair Haven.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) listened quietly alongside Rep. Ben Joseph (D-North Hero) and Rep. Chris Mattos (R-Milton) on the stage in the Milton High School auditorium as speakers aired their views for an hour and a half.
About 50 people attended the meeting, including a small group of Milton High School students who opted to attend the town hall instead of a basketball game, the sounds of which echoed from down the hall.
The speakers, most of whom were middle-aged men, outlined a wide range of societal problems other than guns that have led to the recent surge in mass shootings. They also offered solutions for school safety to the politicians, who, the speakers said, are already in the process of betraying the public.
“I want to say shame on Governor Scott,” said Ed Gallo, of Richmond. He suggested Scott’s stance doesn’t honor Vermonters’ right to defend themselves with guns.
“It’s kind of convenient because he’s got an armed body guard that walks around with him,” Gallo said.
Ed Gallo of Richmond
Gallo recalled growing up in Vermont, when kids would bring their deer rifles to school. He said the vice principal used to go out in the parking lot to admire students’ guns. It wasn’t seen as a danger, Gallo said, insisting that legislation controlling access to guns will not make students safer.
“I want to say shame on the Vermont legislature,” he said. “Shame on you.”
Lee Morgan’s nephew, Michael, acknowledged that an extremely small portion of the population uses guns “in a demonic nature to kill fellow humans needlessly.” The sudden focus on guns, he said, is a result of media “whipping the American populace into a frenzy about these ‘evil guns.’”
The younger Morgan was the first of many speakers to describe places of learning in military terms.
“Schools have been identified as soft targets by these abhorrent individuals,” he said, suggesting that placing armed guards at schools would “put these thugs on notice that our schools are no longer easy targets.”
Morgan said the focus on controlling guns is misguided, and the schools need to be "hardened," or fortified, to protect against would-be shooters.
“If guns kill people, why send people with guns to war?” he said. “Why not send just the guns?” Much of the crowd erupted in applause.
The roughly half-dozen Milton High School students at the meeting didn’t applaud. They sat silently for most of the town hall as they listened to the speakers. Near the end, some of them got a turn with the microphone.
“Guns in school don’t make me feel safe,” said Ari Randall, a Milton High School student who doesn’t believe a “good guy with a gun” will stop a shooter.
“No one is that powerful and more people dying isn’t going to solve our problems,” Randall said.
Caitlyn Lamotte, a senior at the high school, said she respects the right to own guns for hunting but wants lawmakers to limit access to weapons capable of — and designed for — killing and maiming many people in a short time.
Milton High School senior Caitlyn Lamotte
“That’s not fair to me,” she said, gesturing to the wider audience, “that because you guys want an AR-15, I’ve gotta die?”
Lamotte then turned to the lawmakers on stage.
“Please. I beg you,” she said. “This shouldn’t even be a question. I want to live.”
Milton superintendent Ann Bradshaw spoke up after the students. She responded to suggestions from other speakers that lawmakers help “harden” the schools with armed guards and other security measures.
“Yes, we could harden our schools,” she said, “But I just wonder, as I visualize Sandy Hook and the first graders in the corner, and the shooter walked in with an automatic rifle and just slaughtered them like lambs—"
She stopped suddenly because a man in the crowd shouted to correct her that the gun used to kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School was, in fact, semiautomatic. Bradshaw skipped to her point: “You have the right to bear arms, yes, but do people need automatic and semiautomatic weapons?”
On stage, the four representatives made a point to do more listening than talking. They refused when pressed by a member of the audience to say how they plan to vote on various gun legislation as it faces approval in the coming weeks.
“We’re not going to talk about that,” Turner said. “I want to thank you for coming. I’ve been a representative for 13 years here, and I regret that I’ve never done this before because it was enlightening.”