Last Saturday I joined about 30 people gathered on Brattleboro Common to commemorate the Newtown school massacre six months ago. Ann Braden, who founded GunSense Vermont, addressed the somber crowd from the gazebo. Arranged on the steps were photos of the 20 children and six adults who died at Newtown. Braden's mother lives in Newtown.
"I've brought my 3-year-old to play on the town playground, where I'm sure those children played," Braden said. "When I pictured Sandy Hook Elementary as the news reports came in, I didn't picture a crime scene. I pictured a regular elementary school -- one that is a lot like ours."
During the school year that has just ended, the Sandy Hook tragedy had lasting consequences in our schools. When my classes were interrupted by lockdown drills, we cowered in the dark, away from the doors and windows, worrying about how to respond to an armed intruder bent on slaughtering children. Schools are spending precious money and energy on cameras and buzzers and bulletproof glass and stouter doors and more and stronger locks to defend ourselves from people with easy access to more and more powerful deadly weapons. This response profoundly saddens me. Is this the best we can do?
According to a report by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, when it comes to laws around guns, Vermont is among the most lax states in the nation. The 2010 report listed 10 gun-control laws that the mayors' study found effective in limiting gun crimes; east of the Mississippi, only Vermont and Kentucky had passed none of them. Now that New York, under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, has passed some of the strongest laws in the country, it seems safe to assume that even more criminals will come to Vermont to get guns. An agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, interviewed by WCAX, noted that compared to other nearby states, in Vermont guns are easier to obtain and cheaper, and illegal drugs are more expensive.
"So, that creates a market where you have drugs coming in and you have guns going out," he told the reporter.
Mike Mrowicki, who represents Putney, Dummerston and Westminster in the Vermont Legislature, also spoke to those gathered on the Common. Although he has sponsored a bill initiating modest measures to expand background-checks in Vermont and limit high-capacity weapons, the bill is still in committee -- partly because Governor Shumlin is mysteriously opposed to strengthening gun laws in Vermont.
On Town Meeting Day, Shumlin came home to Putney, and those attending laughed and applauded as he joked and talked about his administration's accomplishments. But then, responding to a question about Mrowicki's proposed legislation, he said that he disagreed with Governor Cuomo, and he repeated his usual statement about preferring a 50-state solution to address gun violence. When he finished, the audience was eerily silent for a long moment before the governor moved on to another topic, At the end of the meeting, Putney's voters approved -- nearly unanimously, on a voice vote -- a resolution supporting four of the provisions in Mike's bill and urging our national legislators to continue their work on gun control. In April, Congress failed to pass even a law mandating universal background checks -- a measure favored by over 90 percent of Americans. So much for the "50-state solution."
As Mrowicki pointed out on the Common, Vermonters aren't in the habit of waiting for other states to do the right thing. Vermont led on the abolition of slavery; we led in initiating civil unions and gay marriage; why are we lagging behind other states in passing sensible gun laws? While we know that the NRA, supported by gun manufacturers, is urging its members to fight any and all attempts to limit access to guns, a survey in 2011 -- before Sandy Hook -- showed that 60 percent of gun-owners not in the NRA, and 46 percent of NRA members, favored banning magazines with more than 10 rounds; 64 percent of non-gun owners favored such a measure. Why are our elected officials letting a small number of people -- admittedly very vocal and very well-organized people -- control the debate on this issue?
Legislators need to hear, loud and clear, from those of us who favor sensible gun legislation -- and the governor needs to hear from us as well. You can go to http://gunsensevt.org/take-action/ to sign a petition.
School will be starting again in a few short weeks.
Maggie Cassidy is a local teacher and trainer in inquiry. The opinions in this piece are hers alone and do not represent those of any educational institution or school administration.