Democrats eye an end to firearms preemption in Vermont

Democrats eye an end to firearms preemption in Vermont
Don Petersen

The state of Vermont has long vexed anti-gun activists who look at the voting trends of the state and can’t figure out why their gun control proposals have met with such stiff resistance over the years. Yes, gun control groups have had a few legislative wins, including the introduction of  waiting periods and declaring more places “sensitive” and off-limits to guns, but the state’s carry laws have remained untouched even with Democrats holding a veto-proof majority in the legislature.

That could change, however, if Democrats in Vermont are able to buck the national expectation of a red wave. Phil Scott, the state’s Republican governor, is expected to handily win re-election, but if the anti-gun majority in the legislature remains intact gun owners in the Green Mountain state could soon be faced with a patchwork-quilt of local gun laws, including prohibitions on where they can carry.

Ahead of the 2023 legislative session, cities and towns across Vermont have either adopted or are considering resolutions requesting the power to regulate guns. GunSense Vermont, an influential gun control lobbying group, is spearheading the effort.

On Oct. 11, Woodstock’s village trustees adopted a resolution calling for the repeal of a state law, commonly known as the Sportsman’s Bill of Rights, that prevents municipalities from restricting guns.

The Burlington City Council expects to take up a similar resolution soon, and GunSense Vermont is pursuing measures in Montpelier and Winooski.

“We’d like to start in a few communities to sort of build a critical mass to get some support going at the Statehouse,” GunSense Vermont Executive Director Conor Casey said.

In Burlington, council President Karen Paul, D-Ward 6, said the city’s Board of Health is putting forward the resolution. The council plans to vote on a motion to send it to the public safety committee for review, Paul said.

The Burlington resolution echoes the Woodstock one and also calls for “meaningful steps to prevent gun violence,” which could include the creation of a gun violence prevention office, partnering with schools to promote gun violence prevention and providing guidance for the safe storage of guns.

In Woodstock, village trustees, who passed the resolution unanimously, said they worked with GunSense to craft the language.

“The Village of Woodstock believes in the right and propriety of the municipalities to enact reasonable regulations involving firearms designed to ensure the safety of in a reasonable manner given local concerns and issues,” the resolution said.

Bob Williamson, a Woodstock resident and GunSense board member, noted that Woodstock recently suffered the ramifications of gun violence. In June, a murder-suicide shut down the village for hours.

“It’s something that certainly brought it home for Woodstock,” said Seton McIlroy, chair of the trustees. McIlroy also works with Moms Demand Action, a national advocacy group working against gun violence.

McIlroy said she thinks that towns should be able to have a say in gun laws.

“Gun violence prevention laws are not necessarily one size fits all,” she said.

Our constitutional rights, on the other hand…

There are two important takeaways for gun owners here. First, get out and vote on Election Day. If Democrats don’t have a veto-proof majority in the statehouse, it makes it a lot easier to stop this bad bill from becoming a terrible law. My guess is that Scott would be inclined to reject a bill killing off firearms preemption if it gets to his desk, and if Republicans can pick up just five seats in the 150-member state House or two state Senate seats they’ll have the votes to prevent a veto override from taking place.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the gun control lobby is doing a pretty good job of running candidates for all kinds of office; from U.S. Senate down to local school board elections. Second Amendment activists aren’t completely absent from the political arena, but we do have some catch-up to do, and I’d love to see hundreds of 2A advocates on the ballot across the country in 2024. Activists like Williamson and McIlroy know that even sitting on a small-town council or board of trustees gives them a platform to try to enact their anti-gun ideology on a much bigger scale, and we need a corresponding chorus of candidates (in both Republican and Democratic primaries) who’ll remind voters of the false promise of increased safety at the expense of their right to protect themselves and their families.