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Mares: Burlington's Gun Ordinances

On Town Meeting Day a year ago, Burlingtonians approved by a 2 to 1 margin, proposed changes to our City Charter that would (within the city limits) ban guns from bars, provide for the safe storage of firearms, and enable police to temporarily remove firearms from scenes of domestic violence.

I’m a Burlington resident, gun owner and lifelong hunter, and these proposed charter changes don’t seem very revolutionary to me. They’ll have no impact upon the ability of Vermonters to pursue their hunting privileges – nor will the right to defend oneself or one's family be impaired by this legislation. So I enthusiastically voted for these common sense moves by the citizens of Burlington to better protect the public health and safety of this community.

Now these charter changes have gone to the state legislature for approval, where their first stop is the House Government Operations Committee. As they have with the gun legislation before the Senate - Second Amendment absolutists have opposed these measures by predicting that any gun restrictions at all will surely lead to registering all guns and eventual confiscation.

Frankly, I think all guns should be registered, as are those other deadly weapons - cars and drivers. But that's not what these ordinances are about.

Other opponents say the state shouldn't have a patchwork of ordinances. To which I say that our cities and towns are not all the same, and that what happens in Canaan or Guilford or Brandon may not happen the same way – if at all – in Burlington. Every municipality is already largely responsible for its own public safety. And regulation of weaponry seems as legitimate a matter of local control as setting a school budget, posting speed limits or even adding local option sales, rooms and meals taxes - something more than twenty towns are already doing.

The right to own a gun, like other constitutional rights, is not without limitations. Democracies have the obligation to protect public health - and the responsibility to constrain by reasonable means the freedom of individuals who put the majority at risk. And while Second Amendment absolutists will insist we’re on the slippery slope to "taking away all guns," I see these ordinance changes and the scaled-back Senate bill on restricting gun ownership as small steps on the steep and difficult path toward sensible gun control.

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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