Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Tim Griswold of Rutland wraps himself in a flag Saturday during a rally in support of gun rights at the Statehouse in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — Around 250 Vermonters rallied at the Statehouse on Saturday to voice their opposition to proposed gun control legislation in Vermont and to demonstrate their support of the Second Amendment.
The rally was part of “Gun Appreciation Day,” a nationwide event in which similar rallies were held across the country amid the emotional debate on gun violence in the United States. The argument stems most recently from the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, among them 20 first-graders.
Anthony Commo of Burlington organized the event and was happy with the turnout for the rally.
“No one looked particularly crazy or dangerous, which I think is important,” Commo said.
President Barack Obama last week announced 23 executive actions aimed at reducing gun voilence, and separately asked Congress to pass laws that would require background checks on all gun sales, restore a ban on “military-style assault weapons,” ban gun magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds, and toughen penalties for people who sell guns to those who can’t legally possess them.
In Vermont, Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, proposed legislation last week that would prohibit “the manufacture, possession or transfer of semi-automatic assault weapons,” as well as “large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices” or magazines.
Commo opposes any restriction on the type of guns people can own.
“What I don’t want are my rights, as someone who has done nothing wrong, taken away to satisfy people who are scared,” he said. “There is a huge bias in the media about what guns people should or should not be allowed to own. A lot of times that’s not based on facts or reasonable thought.”
Commo said he is open to a discussion about who should be allowed to buy guns. He supports broader background checks when someone tries to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer, including whether the purchaser has a mental illness.
He would also support legislation aimed at stopping so-called “straw man” purchases in which someone who is legally eligible buys a gun for someone else who is not permitted to own one.
When it comes to private sales or trades, however, Commo said background checks aren’t needed and the responsibility falls on the seller to make sure the person buying the firearm is not dangerous or “seems strange.”
“If you’re a buddy of mine and I know you own a lot of guns, I know you’ve been through that background check. I know you can own guns legally,” he said. “I don’t think I should have to go significantly out of my way and have to pay fees before I either sell or trade a gun to you.”
Matt Storer of Williston held a sign at the rally saying the media has a responsibility to combat misinformation. Whether it’s Fox News, MSNBC, or local news outlets, Storer contends that he hears people saying things that are completely false, such as the claim that people are able to own fully automatic weapons — which are federally banned.
He’s also frustrated that the hosts of news shows don’t hold their guests accountable and point out when they say something false.
Storer said he doesn’t like the term “assault weapon.” He said when people use that term, they are really talking about the “cosmetic” differences between weapons — whether they have a collapsible stock or rails on which accessories can be attached, which affect neither the lethality nor functionality of the weapon, he said.
Storer said any gun can be an “assault weapon” depending on how it’s used. He said most gun crimes involve handguns, not rifles.
He asked, “Why aren’t we talking about that?”
Richard Alexander of Craftsbury is president of the Green Mountain Practical Shooters, a group which hosts competitive shooting events in Morrisville, where people shoot at targets, some in human form.
Alexander told the Statehouse rally that Baruth’s bill would make them all felons, if enacted, and would essentially outlaw all of their firearms. He also advised those in attendance not to email or call their legislators to express their opposition to the legislation, but to hand-write their letters instead and mail them through the Postal Service, suggesting they would then have more of an impact.
“If you want to hunt, shoot in your backyard or do whatever you want, you write your legislators,” he urged the crowd.
Baruth’s bill would establish a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to a year in jail. Additionally, any firearm that someone owns prior to the law’s taking effect would be “grandfathered in,” and the owner would be allowed to keep the weapon.
In Alexander’s view, the issue is simple: There’s not much gun crime in Vermont. He cited 2011 crime data from the FBI which reported four firearm-related murders that year. Two of those killings were committed by handguns and the other two were by unknown firearms.
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