Here’s where I stand on gun violence. First let us consider the constitutional issues. As with the rest of the Constitution, patriotic, intelligent people of good will interpret the Second Amendment differently. It is unfortunate that some people regard the conversation about these disagreeing interpretations as an argument between those who support the Second Amendment and those who oppose it.
The most narrow or strict interpretation is that the right to keep and bear arms only authorizes the people to own muskets with which to muster into well regulated militias to kill Canadians and Indians and to intimidate run-away slaves. The broadest reading has it that the right to bear a musket in a well regulated militia in the Eighteenth Century translates to an unlimited individual right in 2013 to bear military assault weapons unimagined by the Founders. And there are countless more moderate interpretaions between these extremes.
However we understand the right to keep and bear arms, we cannot ignore the Second Amendment’s reference to a “well regulated militia”. Some think that the “well regulated militia” in 2013 is the National Guard. Others argue that the well regulated militias of the Eighteenth Century (like the famous Minutemen) were drawn from the general public and so the “well regulated militia” is the general public today. Even if we accept that the militia in question is the general public, the Second Amendment explicitly says it should be “well regulated.” I understand this to mean that the Second Amendment not only allows for gun control, it explicitly calls for it. So I see no constitutional barrier to reasonable regulation of fire arm ownership or use.
The fact that we CAN do something does not necessarily mean we SHOULD. Since first running for the State Senate in 1988 I’ve never supported gun control in Vermont. Vermont is one of the safest states in the union with no gun problem in need of fixing. We’re a rural state with long and deep gun traditions. Many Vermonters are very protective of their gun rights. I’ve never been afraid to take a controversial stand when principle requires. I’ve taken controversial positions on free speech, due process, the inconveniences of environmental protection and tax equity, to name a few. But I’ve not chosen to engage the political battle over guns because it didn’t seem worth it.
I fear the times have changed, and I find it ever more difficult to defend this comfortable neutrality. We are one disasterous outrage away, one murderous lunatic away from my argument blowing up in my face. As is, Vermont is becoming an arsenal for the gangs of our neighboring states. Thugs come to Vermont to buy guns with drugs. I think reasonable limits are in order; background checks, limits on particularly dangerous and destructive weapons etc.
There are several gun control efforts presently under consideration in the Legislature including my bill requiring that fire arms and ammunition be stored so as to be unavailable to children.. It’s hard to predict how any of them will do. But we must not forget that government’s first and most basic responsibility is public safety.