Kunin revved up a crowd of about 150 people from around the state with a rousing plea to not let the “extraordinary power” of the National Rifle Association “silence us.” Just because there will be no Statehouse hearings of any kind on any new gun safety legislation this year, she said, is not a reason to give up.
“Gun safety really means the safety of our children, of our loved ones,” Kunin said.
Kunin, who served in the 1980s and was the first woman elected to the Fifth Floor, said she holds out hope that there will be legislative action next year on H.124, a bill that would require gun owners to lock up their weapons. She described the legislation as a “baby step,” but an important baby step.
“I know this bill has a tough road,” Kunin said. “You mention the words gun control and some people shudder. One of the reasons there are no hearings just announced yesterday on any form of gun legislation is because of — let’s face it — the extraordinary power of the NRA.”
Lawmakers who have “stood up” to the gun rights organization (a handful of whom were present at the press conference), she said, “will need your support.”
“I wasn’t sure I’d get involved in this issue, but the Newtown murders inspired me,” Kunin said. “Leaders in Vermont, it’s time. It’s an uphill battle, but we’ve go to start. This is real grassroots politics. Don’t give up.”
She cited statistics to back up her contention that unless Vermonters find a way to require guns to be locked up, weapons pose a threat to the safety of children and families. Of the 30,000 gun deaths a year in America, 20,000 of those are from suicide, she said. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide, most typically with firearms, Kunin said. “The easy availability of a gun is one of the reasons suicides occur so predominantly,” she said.
“Suicide is one of the consequences of having guns available to children and to adults,” Kunin said. “If you have a gun, it works. The likelihood of dying from a gun (as a way of committing suicide) is about 85 percent. If you have a gun in the house and you don’t keep it safe, it is dangerous to your family.”
Health departments in Missouri, Wyoming and North Carolina, she said, in recognition of the problem, are giving out free gun locks.
Dina Janis, an activist from Dorset who is part of the Million Moms Against Gun Violence group, compared the killing of 20 young children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to 9/11. She said the murders are a wake up call for parents who are concerned about the safety of their children.
“A lot of people say we don’t have a gun problem in Vermont,” Janis said. “We are fortunate we have not had an incident here like the incidents that have occurred in the rest of the country. But I would argue that as citizens of the nation Vermont has always taken the lead and it is taking the lead in Washington. There are issues. People can come to Vermont and purchase a gun and take it to another state. We need to be good citizens.
About 3,000 Vermonters signed a MoveOn.org petition urging lawmakers to pass the child access protection bill, H.124. Janis delivered the petition to legislative leaders on Wednesday.
Ann Braden, a resident of Brattleboro, spearheaded the petition drive. In a speech (with her baby in tow), Braden said the Constitution allows for a “well-regulated militia.”
“Nowhere does it (the Constitution) give the right to take down an entire classroom of defenseless children in seconds,” Braden said. “If such weapons had existed 300 years ago, the founding fathers would have recognized that as tyranny in its own right.”
Braden said the gun control legislation proposed by Reps. Linda Waite-Simpson and Alison Clarkson isn’t “about the Second Amendment, it’s about saving lives.”
Though a majority of Vermonters in a poll support background checks for gun purchasers and other gun control measures, there aren’t enough votes to move the bill forward, Braden said. “I’d like to ask legislators in the House: Why is that?” Braden said. “Is it because a minority has such a loud voice?”
Gun rights activists Sherb Lang from Lyndonville and Clint Gray of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs didn’t attend the press conference and wouldn’t comment directly on the arguments made by gun control advocates. “They’re entitled to their opinion, whether it makes any sense or not,” Lang said.
Lang opposes the gun safety law. He said if guns are locked up, Vermonters will have difficulty protecting themselves from intruders.
Gray says he supports a national requirement for mental health reporting to the National Instant Background Check database for gun purchasers.