The horrific events of last Sunday weigh on all of us. Hearing the death toll in the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and the notion that the killings were motivated by hate for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, has left me literally sick to my stomach and aching for our country. Over the last few days when I was carving out time to celebrate my daughter’s birthday, my children were asking the most difficult question.
How could this have happened?
After extensive research and input from Vermonters, I remain focused on the platform I outlined earlier this week, because I am convinced it is the best way we, at the state level, can save lives in the immediate term. That means universal background checks that ban gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list and enforcing the ban on straw purchases. I will take a serious look at any proposal that reduces mass shootings and if, as governor, an enforceable bill banning assault style weapons came to my desk, I would sign it.
I ask Vermonters’ forgiveness in not jumping to a policy solution to this horrible event, despite my desire to do “something.” As most people know, I have deep convictions, but I believe in taking time to craft policy. Solving the issue of civilian use of this category of firearm is not simple, and I am eager to review proposals that go beyond rhetoric and will actually reduce mass shootings.
It’s a discussion that we need to have, even though it’s not an easy one.
This is new territory for many of us. I grew up in a state where, until recently, we thought we were immune to gun violence. I have come to the conclusion that Vermont has changed, due in no small part to the violence and gun trade related to the heroin epidemic. Just as we did with firearms in the 1930s, it’s time to reevaluate what is allowed to be sold.
I believe it is clear to everyone that a national solution is the best solution for gun safety. Yet, like most Vermonters, I have very little confidence today in Washington solving anything.
Over the last few days, Vermonters on all sides of the issue have shared their strong views on this topic. We’ve also been reaching out to law enforcement, leaders from cities across the state, firearms specialists and gun safety advocates.
The City of Burlington, perhaps the most aggressive on gun control in the state, ruled out an assault weapon ban largely due to the difficulty in defining a firearm type. Objective research into the impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban shows it had little to no impact.
These challenges aside, I agree with the majority of Vermonters that it is not OK for anyone to be able to buy an AR-15 off Craigslist without a background check. And no one in Vermont should be allowed to make a straw purchase at a gun show, which continues to happen despite the prohibition in federal law.
Anyone who says this issue is only about guns and not about people is not telling the whole story. And anyone who tells us this is only about bad people and not about guns is also failing us. And there’s no denying that these kinds of military-style firearms allow one person filled with hate to kill massive numbers of people.
We can all agree that divisive rhetoric has gotten us nowhere -- and has both sides digging in. To actually make a difference in gun safety, we need to have leadership that will bring parties together to help make our state and country safer. We in Vermont are not immune to these heinous acts. We are all affected when a person filled with hate and armed with a weapon he never should have been able to obtain creates terror in the night for our brothers and sisters.
This is a time that will test us as a country. Mourning is not enough. We must have action. But that action needs to be real and not reactionary or rhetorical. We have to come together to move us to a better place.