There are plenty of reasons to be proud of being a Vermonter -- too many to list as a matter of fact, but the following is not one of them: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that in 2013, adjusting for population, Vermont has the highest rate of guns traced and recovered in other states after being used for criminal activity.
The ATFE study found that 23.5 guns per 100,000 Vermont residents -- 147 total -- were recovered in crimes committed outside the state. According to VTDigger, which parsed the report, New Hampshire, at 22.3 guns per 100,000 residents, has the second-highest gun export rate of the six New England states; Massachusetts has the lowest rate, at 3.7 guns per 100,000 residents. The national average is 15.2 guns per 100,000 people.
The report also stated that the share of crime-related guns connected with "dangerous drugs" in Vermont rose to 52 percent in 2013, up from 15 percent in 2012 and 5 percent in 2011.
But this might just be the tip of the iceberg. Because only a small percentage of crime-related guns are traced, these numbers represent just a fraction of the total flow of illegal guns. Ann Braden, president of Gun Sense Vermont, said these are statistics worth taking seriously.
Gun Sense Vermont is lobbying for criminal background checks on all gun sales in the 2015 legislative session. The measure would prevent felons and the severely mentally ill from buying weapons and would require all firearm purchases between a buyer and unlicensed seller to take place in a licensed gun store.
Brattleboro's Ann Braden, president of Gun Sense Vermont, told the Burlington Free Press, the group's singular focus in 2015 will be to pass a law requiring criminal background checks for all gun transactions, she said.
"The Boston Globe recently reported on the guns-for-drugs trade flourishing between Vermont and Massachusetts, describing an iron pipeline that runs along I-91 exporting guns sometimes by the van-load south to places like Springfield. It was also reported armed robberies are on the rise in Vermont," said Braden.
Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs told VTDigger that Gun Sense Vermont and others are conducting an "inaccurate attempt to blame Vermont for violent crime in other states."
"No matter how they try to work the numbers, Vermont is simply not a major source of guns in other states," Hughes concluded.
According to the 2013 raw numbers, 29 of the 1,571 guns seized by police in Massachusetts were traced to Vermont, compared with 431 from Massachusetts, 121 from New Hampshire, and 91 from Maine. Vermont was traced as the source of 61 crime weapons in New York, the primary destination for Vermont guns.
Though Vermont has the highest rate of gun deaths (homicides, suicides, and accidents) in New England -- twice that of Massachusetts, Vermont ranks among the lowest crime states in the country.
"In Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, they have much more restrictive gun laws, yet they have higher crime rates," said Hughes. "So you have multiple states right there adjacent to each other, and we disprove the idea that gun control works at preventing gun crime."
Whether or not it can be proven if Hughes' statement is spurious, the majority of Vermonters desire more gun control, not less. A poll commissioned by Gun Sense Vermont indicated 81 percent of the 600 Vermonters questioned strongly or moderately support requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check. The poll indicated 77 percent of gun owners support criminal background checks, Braden told the Free Press.
Since 1993, there were 327,000 firearms purchased in Vermont with an average of two firearm murders per year and more people were murdered with guns in domestic violence incidents than any other type of homicide.
Convicted domestic violence offenders are not allowed to buy or possess guns under federal law. But they can avoid a background check by buying guns from unlicensed sellers -- often at gun shows, auctions, or through anonymous online transactions -- who are not required by federal law to conduct background checks on potential buyers.
As we've noted before on this page, the Reformer believes it's time for common senses gun control in Vermont. We back Gun Sense Vermont's call to require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between private parties and prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines. We also back its call to require firearms dealers or purchasers to obtain a state license and the reporting of mental health commitments or adjudications for firearm purchaser background checks. The number of firearms that may be purchased at one time should be limited and a waiting period should be imposed to purchase a firearm. We also believe, as does Gun Sense Vermont, that junk guns such as Saturday Night Specials, should be banned and local governments should be allowed to regulate firearms. Finally, a permit and training should be required for anyone who wants to carry a concealed firearm.
These suggestions have been met with a howl of disapproval by those who would like to preserve the status quo, so it's up to the majority of Vermonters to let their legislators know they would like to see changes made during the next legislative session. We urge all of those who agree with Gun Sense Vermont's suggestions to get in touch with their representatives and senators and urge them to adopt common sense gun control laws.