The public debate over gun laws arrived Thursday evening on the campus of the University of Vermont, where both supporters and opponents of new gun legislation made their views known.
Jace Laquerre greeted visitors as they arrived at the historic Ira Allen Chapel Thursday evening. Laquerre, a 19-year-old freshman at UVM, helped organize a coming together of gun rights advocates.
“We want to tell our legislators that there are students that are pro-gun, a lot of us. And that’s the not the narrative you’re seeing in the media these days, with the Parkland students organizing. You know, you’d think every student was for gun control, when that’s not the case,” Laquerre says.
The event didn’t end up drawing much of a college crowd, but it did lure well more than 100 adults who are growing increasingly concerned about new gun legislation now being considered in Montpelier. Craig Averill drove through a snowstorm from his home in Goshen to be at the event.
“It’s an invasion on our rights, and that’s why I’m here,” Averill says.
Vermont lawmakers appear poised to pass several pieces of gun control legislation this year, such as raising the age limit to purchase a gun to 21 years old and requiring federal background checks for private gun sales.
The push for those measures gained steam after an 18-year-old was arrested last month for allegedly planning to inflict mass casualties at Fair Haven Union High School. Even Republican Gov. Phil Scott, once a staunch opponent of new gun laws, now says legislation is needed.
Averill says Scott’s abrupt turnabout on the issue is particularly concerning.
“I think what’s happening is people are knee-jerking on emotions,” Averill says. “So [Scott]’s not concerned with enforcing the constitution, which is his oath to office, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s betrayed the conservative base.”
Keith Stern, Scott’s lone challenger so far in the Republican gubernatorial primary, was on hand Thursday to court any prospective voters that Scott may have alienated. Stern says he too thinks Scott may lose his base as a result of his new stance on gun laws, “because he took an oath to protect the constitution.”
“And restricting gun rights is violating that oath,” Stern says.
Stern is looking to draw as clear a distinction as he can between him and Scott on that issue. As a campaign fundraiser, for instance, he’s selling raffle tickets for an AR-15 for $20 apiece.
According to The New York Times, 173 people in the U.S. have been killed since 2007 in mass shootings that involved AR-15s. But people like Laquerre, Averill and Stern say the weapon isn’t the problem. Instead, they say policymakers need to address the mental health issues that give rise to the desire to commit mass shootings in the first place.
An hour before the gun rights event Thursday, about 20 UVM students gathered at the entrance of the Bailey/Howe Library to stage a counter rally.
Alec Collins, a UVM sophomore who went to Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, says he didn’t want Laquerre’s event to go unanswered.
“It’s a little disgusting to me that in the wake of yet another massacre of schoolchildren … that, you know, a group of UVM students want to bring this, like, rabidly, like, extremist perspective on guns,” Collins says.
Collins says students like him will make sure elected officials in Vermont are rewarded for their votes on gun control bills.