February 3, 2013

Vermont Senators defend “rural tradition” of military-style assault weapons

From The Valley News, Tuesday, Jan. 29 [comments below]:
Gun control advocates in the Upper Valley are criticizing Democrats in the Vermont Senate for abruptly withdrawing a bill that would have banned the sale or manufacture of assault weapons before the legislation even had a chance to be discussed at a public hearing.

The bill, initially filed by Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Burlington, would have prohibited the manufacture, possession and transfer of semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition, and made it a crime for a person to leave a firearm accessible to a child. ...

Caledonia state Sen. Joe Benning, R-Lyndon, had lunch with Baruth a few days before he pulled the bill, and told him he wouldn’t support the assault weapons ban. Baruth then shared with him that he couldn’t find anyone in the Democratic caucus who would support his bill, either.

“When he recognized there was no support for his bill, he decided to withdraw it so not to cause any conflict or discussion,” [emphasis added] said Benning, whose district includes several Orange County towns in the Bradford area.

Numerous Democrats interviewed said they wouldn’t have supported the bill if it had gone forward, many citing the rural nature of Vermont life.

Benning said he has received hundreds of emails from constituents and every email was opposing the bill, which Benning said he found shocking.

State Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, said that in 23 years, he has never supported gun control in Vermont, and it’s because Vermont is a rural area and firearms are part of rural life.

State Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville, said she wouldn’t have supported the bill because assault weapons are not the only way that people can harm or kill others. Take Melissa Jenkins for example. The St. Johnsbury Academy teacher was strangled to death last year and her death did not involve a firearm.

“I wish we could legislate (against) evil,” said Kitchel, a Caledonia senator also representing the Bradford-area towns.

And while Kitchel understands that there are a lot of gun owners in Vermont and gun laws are relaxed, she said there is no correlation between the number of gun owners in Vermont and gun violence. ...

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Quechee, said he too wouldn’t have supported Baruth’s bill because he said he doesn’t want the Senate to have a reactive approach to what happened in Newtown, Conn.

Instead, he sided with Benning and said that the Senate should focus on the flaws in the system that allow people with mental illness to have access to guns. ...
If the 2nd amendment protects the right of individuals to own military-style assault rifles, why not rocket launchers, mortars, cannons, tanks? Weapons of mass destruction don't belong in the hands of individuals. This is not (yet) central Africa or Somalia. "Rural traditions" of hunting and shooting have nothing to do with assault weapons. And Adam Lanza's mom was considered to be a "responsible gun owner"; he himself was well trained to handle those guns "responsibly". Could it be that owning such guns — especially more than one — is itself a sign of mental instability? Or at least a dangerous antisocial proclivity? Or at least a very risky enabler of great potential harm?

Civilization is about limits: freedom, not license. No person is free when anyone can be a tyrant. Baruth's bill was withdrawn "so not to cause any conflict or discussion" — in other words, in cowardly capitulation to well armed bullies. That is indeed more suggestive of eastern Congo than open progressive democratic Vermont.

And U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy going on, like fellow "liberal" Jane Kitchel above, about how special Vermont is with so many guns and relatively little gun violence (ignoring its leading suicide rate) ignores the obvious fact, which Leahy just helped promote nationally, that Vermont is the go-to state in the region to load up on destructive weaponry. (This "straw purchasing" was noted in the Valley News article by former Norwich Selectwoman Sharon Racusin.) (And of course, Leahy's "job" as a senior senator is mostly to land military contracts for Vermont companies, and part of the military economy is our arming the world, including with "small" arms.)

Finally, Joe Benning (and Kitchel with a more blatant diversion) echos the inanity that "guns don't kill people, people kill people". And people with assault weapons are able to kill lots of people. A letter in today's Valley News similarly insisted that guns are just tools, that we shouldn't blame the gun any more than we blame the car in an accident. But a gun is a tool with only one purpose, a deadly purpose. A civilized society requires cars to be safe so that their use does not bring undue danger to the public. Likewise, a civilized society limits the deadliness of weaponry in the hands of its citizens.

That lawmakers fear even talking about reasonable limits that do not threaten in any way hunting and other recreational shooting, nor the defense of one's home or animals, the "right to bear arms", is itself frightening.

[Note:  The Valley News carried an editorial on Saturday about "this unseemly bit of moral retreat".

human rights, Vermont]