Burlington City Council Approves Gun Control Measures

Oct 22, 2013

Dozens of gun rights advocates spoke out against the gun control charter changes at Burlington's city council meeting Oct. 21.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

Burlington is moving forward with a trio of gun control measures with wide backing from the mayor, city councilors and the city’s police chief.

On Monday night, the city council passed three of four proposed charter changes. The three propose to give police power to seize guns when there is reasonable suspicion of domestic violence, ban firearms from institutions where liquor is served, and require all unattended guns to be securely locked.

Another proposed charter change called for a permitting system for the concealed carry of firearms. Both Mayor Miro Weinberger and Police Chief Michael Schirling voiced opposition to that plan.

The proposed changes now have to pass city-wide vote before they’re presented to the state legislature. If Burlington voters and state legislators approve the change, the city may begin to enforce them.

The city council heard an hour and a half of public comment on the proposals, mostly from gun rights advocates organizing under the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. VFSC is an advocacy group that has long opposed gun control measures.

Before the meeting, VFSC vice-president Evan Hughes said that he doesn’t think the changes are compliant with a section of Vermont law known as the “Vermont Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights.”

That law says, in part, that “no town, city or incorporated village … shall directly regulate hunting, fishing and trapping or the possession, ownership, transportation, transfer, sale, purchase, carrying, licensing or registration of traps, firearms, ammunition or components of firearms or ammunition.”

At the city council’s meeting, opponents simply told the council that gun control is “above your pay grade.”

Hughes said his group seeks to leave the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights intact and stands in opposition to any action that might make it weaker, even just at a local level.

"By its being pried open by the city, it opens up the state to a patchwork of different laws all throughout the state,” Hughes said of the charter changes.

He said the changes resembled regulation in high-crime areas elsewhere in the U.S., but they aren’t needed in Burlington.

"It's a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “We don't have a problem in Vermont. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the country year after year."

But Burlington city councilors – with the exception of the council’s sole Republican, Paul Decelles – disagreed. They called the resolutions “common sense” or “a no-brainer.”

Councilor Dave Hartnett, who voted with Decelles against the safe storage provision, said he wished city council would also address mental health and drug abuse issues that contribute to violent crime. Despite some reservations about the other provisions, Hartnett said he didn’t see anything controversial about the proposal to allow police to seize guns when they suspect domestic violence.

“It’s not above my pay grade to realize that when an officer goes into a [domestic violence] situation like this and he sees a gun lying on the table or on the floor, that we wouldn’t, anybody wouldn’t pick that gun up and get it out of there,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that anybody in this room wouldn’t want that to happen.”

Councilor Rachel Siegel, who had a hand in all four changes along with Councilor Norm Blais, said she expects resistance every step of the way as the charter changes move forward, but she hopes gun control advocates will rally.

“My hope is that there will be a coordinated effort around the state,” she said, “so that there will be ballot items with similar language in many, many townships and municipalities and that they will get wide-reaching support and that then when those numbers get to the state legislators, they will see that actually people want these common-sense measures.”