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Mares: Assault Weapon Ban

(Host) Ever since the school murders in Connecticut three weeks ago Commentator and Burlington resident Bill Mares has been thinking about assault weapons in our society.

(Mares) It was the last day of hunting season. I sat in a blind on Lake Champlain, my shotgun on my lap, and scanned the skies for birds. But the ducks were few and far between, so I had time to think about other things, like the massacre of twenty-seven children and adults at Newtown, Connecticut the week before.

This foggy morning my thoughts were similar to those I 'd had after the mass killings in Columbine high school and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado... the mall in Portland Oregon...Virginia Tech, Arizona, Wisconsin... and on and on, murder after murder. I couldn't help but wonder what comes next? An attack with assault rifles on a neo-natalclinic?

I've been around guns my entire life, firing one shot at a time at deer and ducks and geese with never a need for assault weapons - guns that weren't designed for civilian target practice, but rather for killing people, in combat. For civilians, I think assault weapons are gun pornography.

And though hunting season is now long gone, I keep thinking about this gun culture of ours - with its toxic mix of high powered weapons, violent video games, a never-ending war on terror and its companion climate of fear, an all -volunteer army with lots of civilians needing an outlet for their aggressions, and a centuries-old love of guns. The New York Times reports that gun makers of weapons like the Bushmaster, used in Newtown and Aurora are paying video game makers to incorporate their weapons in to ever more realistic episodes.

For days after the Newtown shootings, the leading gun advocate, the National Rifle Association, had little to say -beyond the bizarre suggestion that armed guards should be posted to all schools in the land.

But then came a ray of hope.

Burlington city councilor Norm Blais proposed a charter change to ban semi-automatic weapons and multiple-ammo clips in the city of Burlington and to levy a hefty fine on those in possession of such arms. He finally said, Enough!

Blais acknowledges that the legislative process is long. All municipal charter changes must get Legislative approval. Moreover, there are some politicians who believe that Vermont cannot seriously influence gun regulation at the national level, despiteour leadership on health care, clean energy, nuclear power, and same-sex marriage.

Not Norm Blais.

And not State Senator Philip Baruth, who has requested a bill be drafted to regulate the sale of high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15.

These are admittedly small steps - but you have to start somewhere. Common sense, public safety and public health all demand for something to be done. And with our national leadership still reluctant to confront the powerful gun lobby , we must consider how to protect our own. How satisfying it was then, on Monday evening, to see after two and a half hours of contentious but civil debate, the Burlington City Council voted 10-3 in favor of Blais' motion. Now it's on to Montpelier.


Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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