By Kelsey Neubauer, VTDigger.org
A bipartisan coalition of mayors is asking lawmakers to put more stringent gun control measures in place.
After the nation’s largest mass shooting in its history earlier in June killed 50 and injured 49 others in Orlando, President Barack Obama called on local and state government officials to act.
On Tuesday, June 28, the Vermont Mayors Coalition, which began promoting gun control measures in January 2013 not long after a shooting of kindergartners at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, reiterated the need for stricter state policies aimed at preventing gun violence.
Mayors Miro Weinberger of Burlington, Seth Leonard of Winooski, John Hollar of Montpelier and Thom Lauzon of Barre met at Burlington Police Department headquarters Tuesday to formally announce their renewed call for local and state action.
“We cannot expect Congress to do anything about this anytime soon, but [local governments] must,” Weinberger said.
The mayors want the state to adopt universal background check policies similar to those adopted by 20 other states. The proposal would close a loophole that allows half of all gun purchases to be made without background checks. In addition, the mayors are pushing for a notification system for local law enforcement when people who are prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy firearms. They also want a report on the efficacy of a new state law, S.141, which requires that individuals who have been found by the court to be a threat to themselves or others be reported to the National Criminal Background Check System database.
Prior to the the law’s implementation in 2015, fewer than 1,000 people were reported within the state to a national system called the national instant background check, according to a news release.
Weinberger said earlier this year Lauzon requested confirmation that the measure was being enforced. Despite repeated calls to the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative, the department in charge of enforcement, there has been no response, the press release states.
“Implementation [of the law] has been slow and less than transparent,” Lauzon said.
Lauzon said the coalition convened early last week after the Orlando tragedy to begin a dialogue on the action the coalition should take collectively. Opinions vary among the members on how to control guns, allowing room for this discussion, he said. “There is so much room for compromise,” Lauzon said.
Lauzon suggested the same cooperative approach be used in a statewide discussion about the issue and he said there will be public discussion on the topic.
Even on the local level, Weinberger said, gun control measures have been lenient. In Burlington, a person can walk into a bar with a gun, he said. His attempt to get the Legislature to approve a local ordinance that would have blocked firearms from bars failed last year.
“Burlington is known for its progressive values,” he said, “This is not an example of us trying to push the boundaries.”
Between 80 percent and 90 percent of Vermonters support universal background checks, according to Hollar.
Seth Leonard, who owns three guns, said the firearm control measures would not infringe on the rights of gun owners, but would protect the public. “This isn’t about gun owners vs. non gun owners,” he said. “It’s an issue that should not be divisive on any level.”