It was standing room only at a heated public forum in Burlington Monday evening. The topic: gun control. It was the last public forum for voters to voice their opinions on proposed new gun restrictions. The Queen City is looking to tighten gun restrictions with three proposed charter changes that are going on the March ballot. Even if the proposals pass with the voters, they still have to get the green light in Montpelier.
It was a packed house at Burlington's City Hall Monday night. Emotions were running high.
"According to these ordinances now-- I'm a criminal, because I don't have my firearm locked up. I mean it's just ridiculous," said Ed Wilbur, who is opposed to the gun restrictions.
The public forum centered around three proposals from the City Council that will be on the March Town Meeting Day ballot. The measures would ban firearms in bars, require gun owners to keep their weapons locked up at home, and would allow police to seize guns from domestic violence suspects.
Instead of shouting out and clapping, people in the crowd were asked to show their support for speakers by raising their hands, and they went up quickly in the Contois Auditorium, mainly by folks who opposed the proposal.
"I, 100 percent, support local law enforcement-- I'm a criminal justice student myself. That said, it's not reasonable to expect the Burlington Police Department to respond to my apartment in under 30 seconds if a burglary or home invasion happens," said Chuck Sussman, who opposes gun restrictions.
"These charter changes would in fact take my natural right to defend myself from you. These charter changes will put me at the mercy of any criminal who has a knife, gun, or is bigger or younger than I am," said Arthur Vento, who opposes the gun restrictions.
Many questioned how these changes will be enforced and what it could mean for everyday safety. Like Amy Alexander, who says a man broke into her home and assaulted her before she showed her gun to scare him off.
"He came into my back door, he clocked me in the face, shoved me up against my buffet. If I had not bought myself a Henry lever-action .44 rifle with 10 rounds loaded in it for my 50th birthday I would not be here today," said Alexander.
Those who stood up to speak in favor of the changes were in much smaller numbers, arguing that approving the measures could save lives.
"Yet another person in Vermont died by a gun. A 13-year-old middle school student from Vermont committed suicide using an unsecured gun two weeks ago today," said Carolyn Bates, who supports the gun restrictions.
Legal expert Cheryl Hanna says even if the changes get passed by the voters, they must then be approved by the Legislature, a move she expects will hit a snag in Montpelier.
"I think there is going to be some resistance from the Legislature to open up that Pandora's Box. In part, because I think many Legislatures will worry that in their own towns they are going to try and be exempt and just reignite the whole debate over gun control more generally," said Hanna.
If passed, the charter changes could face an even bigger hurdle the U.S. Supreme Court. Hanna says given the national uncertainty about gun laws she expects these regulations could be subject to court challenges.
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