In June of 2020, the city council in Burlington, Vermont leaned into the Defund the Police movement in a very big way. Council members kept the police force in place, but decided to slash the number of uniformed officers by 30 percent through attrition. Policing is still a primary concern for city residents, though these days it’s the lack of uniformed officers that is causing consternation.
Despite claims by the Associated Press that Burlington saw a spike in “gun violence” in 2023, the city’s police chief says gun-involved crime was down substantially last year. The city did, however, see a record-setting 30,000 calls for service and an incredible surge in many other crime categories; particularly drug overdoses.
When comparing 2023 to the five-year average of 2018 to 2022, Burlington Police say overdoses rose by 252% and larceny or other property crimes rose by 70%. “This terrible epidemic of drug use that we are experiencing with new drugs, more difficult to address drugs than we’ve ever seen before. Also, for that matter, issues around theft, around public order, around how safe our community feels in our shared public spaces,” Murad said.
One of the top statistics of note from the past year was gun violence. Police reported 16 incidents, a decrease from 2022, which saw 26 incidents, including five murders.
2023 included the random shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent and a double murder where one death is still being investigated. Murad says arrests in previous years helped to bring that number down. “2022 was just a really hard year with regard to gun violence and we saw a decrease — an important and noticeable decrease in 2023,” he said.
Gun-involved crime is a rarity in Burlington, even at its height in 2022, when 26 incidents were reported compared to 62 aggravated assaults, 179 burglaries, and 237 overdoses. But while gun-involved crimes plunged by about 40 percent last year, the number of overdoses skyrocketed to 423. The disparity in homicides and drug overdose deaths is even larger. There were three murders in Burlington in 2023, two of which involved the use of a gun. In just the first four months of 2023, on the other hand, the city saw nine overdose deaths, and while the final tally for last year has not been released it’s guaranteed to be at least 300 percent higher than the per capita homicide rate.
While the number of gun-involved incidents in Burlington was still about 33 percent higher than the five-year average (in part because there were only three gun-related incidents in all of 2019), the National Rifle Association has pointed out that the increase has coincided with the enactment of several new gun control measures, including “universal” background checks, a ban on “large capacity” magazines, and a 72-hour waiting period on gun transfers.
According to CDC fatal injury data, the total number and crude rate of “violence-related firearm deaths” (which includes suicides) increased from 2017 to 2021. Both the total number and crude rate of “violence-related firearm deaths” fell during the same period in neighboring New Hampshire. In Vermont, from 2017 to 2021 “violence-related firearm deaths” among kids ages 0-26 increased 40 percent.
According to FBI data, the violent crime rate increased in Vermont from 2017 to 2020. From 2017 to the first full year of Vermont’s 2018 gun control measures (2019) the violent crime rate rose by nearly 20 percent. Over the same period, New Hampshire’s violent crime rate fell by 19 percent. Maine’s violent crime rate also fell over this period. For 2021, Vermont slipped to 48th in violent crime, with New Hampshire taking the 49th slot and Maine taking 50.
So, do Vermont’s ridiculous gun control laws make the state less safe? To the extent these laws inhibit the ability of law-abiding individuals to defend themselves, yes. Is the data presented above strong evidence that gun control is making Vermont, in general, less safe? No. At best it’s mildly indicative of what common sense would dictate – that Vermont’s gun control measures had no salutary impact whatsoever in the already peaceful jurisdiction.
Lawmakers in Vermont have been more eager to impose new restrictions on legal gun owners than to address the flood of illegal narcotics over the past few years, and sadly, that trend looks to continue this year. At least three new gun control bills have been filed in the state legislature, including a measure to allow municipalities to declare municipal buildings “gun-free zones”, legislation creating a “voluntary” gun license that would allow the bearer to bypass the state’s 72-hour waiting period, and an act prohibiting firearms at polling places and mandating gun owners report lost or stolen firearms to police within 72 hours of the discovery of their loss.
Meanwhile, there have been no bills introduced dealing with opioids in general, fentanyl specifically, or even drug overdoses. Drug deaths are a growing and significant crisis in Vermont, but it looks like the Democratic majority in the legislature still sees legal gun owners as the bigger “problem” that needs to be solved.