Before exiting the Brattleboro Food Co-Op, Johnny Yuma of Saxtons River stops to sign a petition for stricter gun laws in Vermont and to speak with
Before exiting the Brattleboro Food Co-Op, Johnny Yuma of Saxtons River stops to sign a petition for stricter gun laws in Vermont and to speak with lobbyist Ann Braden of BrattleĀ­boro. Braden often brings her baby daughter, Alice along to lobby with her. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Friday June 14, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A little over one month after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when Brattleboro Union High School closed for the day due to threats of violence, Ann Braden went to look for a Vermont gun law organization to work with.

The mother of two young children was still rattled by the mass killings at Sandy Hook and when there was news that BUHS, where her husband works, was also dealing with issues of violence she wanted to work with legislators in Montpelier to strengthen Vermont's gun laws.

Much to her surprise and disappointment she was not able to track down a gun law organization in Vermont that was not affiliated with a national group.

So she decided to start one.

On Saturday, June 15, from 7 to 8 p.m. on the Brattleboro Common, GunSenseVT is holding a vigil to mark the six month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and to call on Vermont lawmakers to begin working on enhanced gun laws.

"I'm not anti-guns and I'm not anti-hunting, I just think we have to find ways to make sure guns don't end up in the hands of the wrong people," Braden said one day this week while talking with people at the Brattleboro Food Co-op about this Saturday's vigil. "There are a lot of people in Vermont who agree with me and clearly the Legislature is not going to take action unless people organize and demand it."

Braden said Saturday's event will be a family friendly affair.

The vigil's main objective is to recognize the six month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting where a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers.

Braden said the vigil is also going to be a way to organize and get support for asking lawmakers to take up new gun laws when they return to Montpelier in January.

"This topic has not been addressed in decades and there is a huge gap in Vermont gun laws," Braden said. "The governor says we have responsible gun owners, and that is true, but they also have responsible gun owners in Colorado and Connecticut. It only takes one person."

A gunman in Aurora, Colo., killed 12 people at a movie theater in July 2012.

Braden said she started GunSenseVT on a shoestring budget by opening a Facebook site and printing up some tee shirts.

She has not been involved in political action organization before, but says the Sandy Hook killings, and then the BUHS incident, drove her to action.

In just a few months, she says, she has gathered hundreds of signatures.

Braden wants to make sure lawmakers hear from their constituents across the state to at least take up the debate on strengthening Vermont gun laws.

Vermont has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, Braden points out, and it is one of the only states in the nation that does not require background checks.

Proposed gun control legislation was defeated during the 2013 session, but Braden says her group will be ready for the 2014 session.

Still, it has not been easy for Braden, who has two children under the age of three.

Some of the comments on the GunSenseVT Facebook page have been violent and she says her group is operating with a budget of "zero." Still, she said she hopes that after Saturday the call for new gun laws in Vermont will get a little louder.

"This has been a grassroots effort, and I have found out that sometimes it can get pretty muddy when you are working at the grassroots level," Braden said. "We are demanding at least a conversation on this. If we think it can never happen here we are fooling ourselves."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.