Governor's misguided views on gun control

Thursday May 9, 2013

Dear Governor Shumlin:

Your stance on gun control does not make sense. In fact it is not even congruent with the way you govern on other important issues facing our state and nation. On Town Meeting day I was very pleased that you came and gave your hometown an update on some critical goals of your administration. I have been a supporter and am very pleased with many of the initiatives you have worked on thus far. I was however quite surprised and disappointed at your response to a fellow town member when she spoke to you on the issue of gun control in our state. Your response that this is basically a federal issue and that since we cannot change what the federal government is doing we should not bother to do anything is rather striking in its direct contradiction to many of the goals you espouse, and it contradicts the philosophy I see you so rightly govern by in other areas.

You have not waited for the federal government to get it right on healthcare, before boldly going towards a single payer system in our state! You have not waited for the federal government to move forward on climate change initiatives that are vitally important. And before you were elected Governor your leadership on the issue of civil unions made it clear you stood in the fine Vermont tradition of granting all citizens equal rights, regardless of whether the federal government was ready to do so! Subscribing to the idea that we should wait till the federal government is ready, Vermont would not have been the first state in the union to outlaw slavery!

Yes, it would be ideal if congress were to enact sensible gun control legislation--but as you know we cannot make the ideal, or the perfect, the enemy of the good. We have just recently seen that congress is unable to pass even very modest reforms that the vast majority of Americans were in favor of. Vermont should be on this issue where it is on so many other issues facing our nation -- it should be boldly leading the way!

Of course we could have good laws in our state and someone could easily go to another state with more lax laws. That is not the point. It does not mean we do not make efforts to make it harder to acquire semi-automatic weapons here in Vermont -- we do what we can, where we can. If it makes it harder for even one person to get an assault weapon and commit a crime, the law will have been worth the fight. Most of your fellow governors in neighboring New England states have signed stricter gun laws and are hoping that Vermont is not a haven for those seeking to bring firearms to nearby urban areas. Vermont, is the only state that does not bar convicted felons from possessing guns --- and the state is sometimes cited by law enforcement officials in metropolitan areas like Boston and New York as a source for guns used in crimes there.

Due to the incongruous nature of your stand on this issue I cannot help but think whether the powerful gun lobby has gotten to you as well. The only other reason I could see, and this is perhaps more likely, is that you feel fairly confident in gaining/keeping the support of the more liberal folks in our state but are concerned about your image with more conservative Vermonters who are more likely to be hunters and are concerned that "us liberals" want to take away their hunting guns. You want to be able to say to them that you stood with them on this issue. I hope that neither of these suppositions is true, because as you know, the gun lobby is simply trying their best to confuse citizens and incite further divisiveness in our country by saying stricter gun laws will mean the government will take away their handguns and hunting rifles.

I am sure you know that the truth is these are not hunting rifles we are talking about. In fact, as a comedian pointed out recently- if you need a semi-automatic weapon to go hunting, someone should tell you to choose another sport -- obviously you are not good enough at hunting!

I think it is critically important that you clearly tell us, the people of the state you govern, why you think it should continue to be legal to purchase a machine gun in Vermont, as well as high capacity magazines of ammunition and assault weapons. So far you have failed to provide any clear rationale for your stance that does not directly contradict the way you govern on other issues. I am all for the second amendment, and I think every citizen should be free to own as many muskets as they want, but obviously the founders in the 18th century were not psychics and did not foresee the type of weapons that we have today. I hope you would agree in principle that there are certain weapons that should not be readily available, or should any citizen be able to purchase a surface to air missile launcher such as are used in many guerrilla armies? If not, it is because there is plainly no reasonable reason for a citizen to use one. So let us draw the line in a more sensible place than it is drawn currently so that we begin to curtail the culture of deadly violence plaguing our country.

I am deeply concerned and surprised that you do not see this as a more critical issue. And I daresay that you would not maintain your casual attitude if, God forbid, a firearms related tragedy happened in one of Vermont's schools. Vermont has some of the most lenient gun laws in the nation. The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence gives Vermont a whopping six out of 100 in regards to Vermont's gun laws. That this does not alarm you after what we have seen over the last number of years in our nation is quite troubling. Please do not wait till we have a tragedy here in Vermont before being a leader on this critical issue.

Elan Moses writes from Putney.


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