Vermont has long been one of the safest states in the Union, a fact that gun control advocates tend to gloss over given that it has very few gun control laws on the books. Long before permitless carry started sweeping across the land it was perfectly legal for lawful gun owners to carry openly or concealed without a government-issued permission slip, for instance.
But something curious is happening in Vermont. As the Democrats in control of the state legislature have enacted several new restrictions on gun owners in recent years, including raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and establishing a waiting period on gun sales (originally three days and more recently expanded to a maximum of seven days), violent crime involving firearms has gone up; something that the head of the Vermont State Police attributes to an influx of illegal drugs, as opposed to, say, a rash of formerly lawful gun owners suddenly deciding to turn to a life of crime.
Overall the country had a 6% decrease in national firearms homicides between 2021 and 2022, but Vermont saw a 185% jump, according to Vermont State Police Capt. Shawn Loan.
“So we went from seven firearms deaths in 2021 to 20 in 2022,” he said, adding that he did not yet have the current total for this year.
About half of the homicides in Vermont involved a firearm between 2017 and 2021, he said. Last year that rose to 86%, Loan said.
While authorities are investigating the shooting of the students as a possible hate crime, many of the homicides around Vermont this fall are likely drug-related and all are isolated from each other, Vermont State Police Director Col. Matthew Birmingham said.
“Vermont is experiencing many drug-related issues. Fentanyl is a huge problem for this state and the country, for that matter,” said Birmingham. “Our overdose death rate is climbing every year, which is a problem and something that should be on everybody’s radar.”
The 20 firearm-related deaths reported in 2022 does not include suicides, but even if those figures are included the number of fatal overdoses dwarfs the number of firearm-involved fatalities. There were 263 overdose deaths in Vermont last year, and 77 percent involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The flood of illicit narcotics is having a major impact across the state, and not just in terms of violent crime.
In Burlington, the drug problem is spiraling out of control and it’s routine to see people injecting drugs downtown, in city hall park and in other places, said Andrew Vota, who has lived in the city for 25 years.
“It’s a citywide issue and people experience it in the downtown but they’re also experiencing it in their neighborhoods and it’s everywhere across the city and it’s scary,” he said of the drug activity.
Retail theft and other crime has increased and some businesses have left downtown.
Vota and Jane Knodell, a former chair of the Burlington City Council, drafted a letter this fall that now has been signed by about 1,500 residents in the city of about 45,000, that outlines concerns and makes recommendations.
“The increasing levels of violence, burglary, retail, automobile, and bike theft, unlawful public drug and alcohol consumption, drug dealing, graffiti, and other illegal activity are unacceptable,” the letter states.
Police staffing, or rather a lack thereof, is also contributing to the problem. The far-left city council in Burlington voted to reduce the size of its police force in 2020, and though they partially rescinded that edict the following year and set the staffing level at 87 officers, there are currently just 69 sworn officers on the job in the most populous city in the state.
Back in October, Burlington council members declared the explosion in drug overdoses and homelessness a public health crisis, which has been about as effective at solving the problem as New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s declaration of gun violence as a public health emergency. The council is also asking the state legislature to make drugs and homelessness a top priority in the new year, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen or if the majority of Democrat lawmakers bury their heads in the sand and once again make cracking down on legal gun ownership their prime concern.