By William Moore (June, 2013)
Recent victories in Montpelier and Washington may leave Vermonters overconfident regarding firearms rights here and across America. Following decades of stalled efforts by “gun safety” activists here in Vermont, it is easy to believe we are innoculated from attempts at restricting our 2nd amendment and Vermont Constitutional rights. This past legislative session should destroy that illusion. Concerted efforts by an organized group now formally operating under the name GunSenseVt.org following the mass shooter terror of Newton Connecticut have promised to bring forth their agenda to every legislative session and have vowed to also propose city, town and school district based initiatives.
This new organization also has connected with resources under the MoveOn.org banner so the possibility of extensive fundraising from out of state is more likely as well. Nationally, money has been funneled through well financed groups targeting congressional races and we should expect the same here in Vermont at the legislative level as early as next fall.
The good news is that the efforts of traditionally effective groups like the Gun Owner’s of Vermont, the NRA, Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and Vermont Traditions Coalition combined with fledgling groups like Vermont2A and P.E.A.C.H. (People Exercising America’s Constitutional Heritage) to form an effective coalition opposed to specific legislation brought by Senator Philip Baruth and Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson.
Highlights of the proposed tyrannies in Montpelier include the usual suspects. The short list of proposals is likely well known to EAI members but here is an annotated review:
– Banning of models, types and configurations of modern sporting rifles; the so-called “Assault Weapons” list of rifles we love to hate. The main problems we face with these bans are ignorance and propaganda. Most people believe these are either heavy caliber or fully automatic or both. The facts are that these weapons are generally lighter (.223 caliber) or comparable to most standard hunting rifles, NOT automatic but semi-automatic and no more accurate than my grandpa’s deer rifle.
– Banning of standard (aka high capacity) magazines and feeding devices for rifles and handguns. As we point out, these are standard capacity because they were originally designed by the manufacturer to maximize the effectiveness of the particular weapon, and are enerally accepted in the law enforcement community and standard issue for most private security groups such as for college campuses. The adoption of these magazines by professionals should make the point that these are best suited for personal self-defense as well. Logic dictates and police trainers confirm that in high stress situations accuracy decreases and larger capacity magazines are an excellent hedge against that effect. Simply put, if it good enough for the deputy sheriff, it is good enough for my daughter walking from her car to her apartment in Burlington.
– Concealed Carry Weapon licensing. Linda Waite-Simpson, the representative behind most of these onerous ideas proposed the licensing of a constitutionally enumerated right. Included were requirements for mandatory training and registration of each citizen seeking to exercise the right to active self-defense. Placed in the light of Vermont’s Article 16 (cited below), the licensing of Vermonter’s to carry concealed is most offensive to lawful gun user’s.
Generally, states with CCW permit requirements fall into two categories; “Shall Issue” is a term denoting a system where everyone passing a background check and a certain training requirement must be issued that license. “May Issue” states tend towards a politicized system where your either unlikely to receive a permit or need to be connected with local officials to have any chance at all. Without stretching the truth about those latter states, there is a strong parallel to the “Jim Crow” laws denying southern blacks voting and 2nd amendment rights up to the 1970s. The politicization of exercising such as essential right is against every bedrock principle of a constitutional republic system. That was the pivotal role played by the 2008 Supreme Court decision Heller v. District of Columbia and the 2010 decision in MacDonald v. Chicago. Both cities had extremely politicized permit systems which all but denied permits to citizens without special status (such as retired law enforcement and local judges).
Vermont has the perfect system already. Under Vermont’s constitution and Vermont Supreme Court precedent (see State v. Rosenthal) every Vermonter at age of consent has a right to carry a firearm for lawful purposes either exposed or concealed. The Rosenthal case made it clear that a person needs no reason to exercise their article 16 right to self-defense and that only criminal intent mattered in the eyes of the law (although some federal laws determine handgun carry for 18-20 year old).
Suggesting that some added training and personal licensing for the exercise of a specifically enumerated right merely shows the lack of respect and understanding of republican principles in Montpelier.
– Universalism of background checks (NICS Brady Law); I use the term “universalism” specifically because it is an ideology, not a legal term or serious crime fighting proposal. Put simply, any expansion of the current tyranny known as “Background Checks” has to be opposed on its face. In fact, this could be said about all these proposals. None would reduce crime or prevent a single mass shooter. The current legal framework under the NICS Brady Background Check law is overreaching and clearly meant to develop a database of firearms purchases by lawful gun owners.
If you have never been through this system, I urge you to go to a gun store and ask to review the Form 4473 used to perform gun purchase background checks. Turn to the top of page three and note the lines recording the make, model and serial number of the firearm purchased. These forms are held by the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) dealer in their store records until they close or retire at which time they become the property of the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). All FFL records are also subject to review by BATFE officials at any time without notice or cause.
A true “background check” system would merely require enough identification to determine that an individual was not listed as a felon, adjudicated mentally ill or otherwise ineligible under the law to purchase a firearm. The utility of such a simple system would require accurate and up to date record keeping by several massive federal bureaucracies: perhaps too tall an order?
We expect the same proposals will resurface in January when the legislature ruturns, and that GunSenseVT and their allies will use the time between now and then to energize and organize popular support – misguided though it will be – for passage of their legislation.
- William Moore is an independent constitutional scholar, historian and journalist living in Johnson.