copyright the Chronicle January 28, 2015
by Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph
MONTPELIER — Nearly 500 people showed up at the State House here Tuesday to express their opposition to a Senate bill that would require background checks when guns are sold.
The rally was organized by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Inc., which invited all participants to wear hunter orange to show solidarity in the face of the proposed legislation, S.31. Those without orange clothing were given round orange stickers.
At 3 p.m. there were already approximately 100 people in the State House cafeteria despite the bad weather. Participants were invited to roam the building in search of their legislators to speak with them about the issue personally until refreshments and food were served at 4:30 p.m.
National Rifle Association (NRA) Foundation Projects and Legislative Affairs Vice-president Evan Hughes said the bill amounts to legislation in search of a problem, but that the validity of the medical portion remains to be seen.
“The aspect with regards to mental health, we’re going to let the medical community take the lead on that issue,” he said. “We’re going to watch with great interest.”
Others felt more strongly about screening for mental health issues and the actual repercussions. Senator John S. Rodgers of Glover said he’s concerned that mentally ill people would avoid seeking help for fear that their firearms would be confiscated.
“My position is that we’re the safest state in the nation, we have a very high per capita of gun ownership in the state of Vermont, and those two statistics should be enough to show people we don’t need any new gun laws,” he said. “All we need to do is enforce the laws that are on the books and we’ll be in fine shape.”
Barton resident Rodney Chayer agreed with the senator. He drove to Montpelier early to attend the rally. He believes that current laws are not enforced strictly enough and that offenders get let off with a slap on the wrist. But Mr. Chayer also believes that the proposed law is attacking the core of Vermont’s identity.
“I’m a gun owner and my youngest son shot his first deer at eight years old, so it’s a tradition,” Mr. Chayer said. “Some of this stuff keeps families together, shooting, hunting, trapping, fishing. It’s just a way of life, and if they start changing it, Vermont is going to lose a big part of its history.”
Mr. Chayer went on to say that Vermont’s hunting heritage is only part of what needs to be preserved. Others agreed.
Kevin and Kristen Shea of Shelburne are also gun owners and hunt with their family. They are concerned that giving a gun as a gift would turn law-abiding citizens like them into criminals. They also mentioned the importance of guns as a means of self-protection.
“A 300-foot restraining order is worthless when a guy makes up his mind that he wants to kill a woman. It’s a piece of paper,” said Mr. Shea. “If a woman at least has a means of defending herself as a last resort, then at least it gives her a chance.”
Luke Willard of Brownington and Jeffrey Youry of Troy, both ambulance drivers for Barton, drove down earlier in the day to meet with fellow gun owners and to bring almost 2,000 signatures from people in Orleans and Essex counties who also oppose the bill but couldn’t make it to the rally. Mr. Willard said that speaking to other attendees gave him new insight into the problems the bill poses.
“If they pass this bill, how are they going to enforce this?” he said. “I hadn’t thought of that until I just spoke to this guy 20 minutes ago.”
The fear is that the next step is to force gun registration.
Mr. Hughes was very pleased with the turnout and the positive atmosphere. “If there hadn’t been a snowstorm, I don’t know how we would have gotten everyone in here,” he said.
contact Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph at [email protected]
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