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Coalition Promotes Smaller Changes To Gun Laws

Susan Keese- VPR
Ann Braden of Brattleboro founded GunSense Vermont.

A coalition called Gun Sense Vermont hopes to succeed where previous advocates have failed.

Vermont is known as one of the least restrictive states when it comes to gun control laws.

The new coalition is promoting modest firearms legislation as a matter of public safety, rather than as an effort at gun control.

The leader of the effort is Ann Braden of Brattleboro. She says her campaign to promote gun safety is about as ‘grass roots’ as an effort could be. The thirty-four-year-old former teacher and mother of two started GunSense Vermont less than a year ago.

Braden says the group had just a few members when it held its first event at the Statehouse last March. But it’s grown quickly.

“We had about a hundred last April,” she says. “There were two hundred in May, and we’re really sort of doubling every month, so we have about two thousand members.”

Braden was speaking at a breakfast meeting in Brattleboro, one of many small gatherings she’s been addressing. She told the group that a majority of Vermonters want more protection against gun violence and accidents.

But gun control legislation introduced last year in the legislature went nowhere. Bills that would have banned assault weapons, expanded background checks and limited how much ammunition a magazine can hold, never reached a vote.

Braden says her group is now pursuing small changes that deal with keeping communities safe.

“This is something that can bring people together rather than polarizing,” she says.

One such measure would hold gun owners legally responsible for storing guns securely and keeping them from unsupervised children.

The group also wants background checks for gun purchasers expanded to include mental health data. It also wants information on protection orders issued in domestic abuse cases.

Braden’s says her group’s goal is to keep firearms out of “the wrong hands.”

“Vermont happens to be one of the only two states in the nation that doesn’t have a state law prohibiting even violent felons from possessing weapons,” Braden says. “It’s the federal law, but we don’t reinforce that as other states do with our own laws.”

But opponents of tighter gun control say federal laws are enforced in Vermont.

Monty Springer is Vice President of Gun Owners of Vermont.

“Violent felons here can’t possess weapons.”

Springer’s group calls itself a “non-compromise organization.”

Springer worries that an expanded data base for gun checks could leave law-abiding hunters and gun owners stigmatized, either by a psychologist’s report or an unfair accusation of domestic violence.

And he says well intended safe-storage measures could leave homeowners unable to defend themselves in a sudden attack.

“If you’ve got a gun locked up and somebody busts your door in,” Springer says, “they’re not going to sit there and wait for you while you go unlock your gun safe and get your handgun or your shotgun out to protect yourself.”

Springer says that even modest gun laws lead to more laws. When you give the government in inch, he says, it always takes a mile.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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