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Thursday, February 27, 2014

For Shumlin and Legislature, a Potential Choice Between Gun Rights and Local Control

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 8:48 AM

click to enlarge Gov. Shumlin speaks at a Montpelier press conference Wednesday. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Shumlin speaks at a Montpelier press conference Wednesday.
The most interesting test for Burlington's three gun-related charter change proposals could come well after voters have their say next Tuesday.

That's because, like any change to the city's charter, all three measures would require affirmative votes by the legislature and the signature of Gov. Peter Shumlin. And while Vermont lawmakers have studiously avoided any debate of gun-related matters since a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school 14 months ago, Shumlin has made perfectly clear that he opposes new gun regulations of any kind.

So what would happen if Burlingtonians approve the measures, which would ban guns from bars, require them to be locked when stored and allow the police to confiscate them from those suspected of domestic abuse?

According to Rep. Donna Sweaney (D-Windsor), who chairs the House Government Operations Committee, any of the three proposals that garner a majority vote on Town Meeting Day next Tuesday would be reviewed by the attorney general's office and then the secretary of state's office. After being introduced in the House by a local lawmaker, they would likely land in her committee.

Would lawmakers vote on the charter changes based upon the merits of the proposals — or would they respect the outcome of a local vote?

"We typically try to respect the local decision," Sweaney said Wednesday. "Although we have refused a couple where there were serious process issues or ambiguity in the language."

No matter what, she says, "I think we would have a lot of discussion about it, definitely, if it comes. We'll have to take a lot of testimony and there will be a lot of discussion about it."

As for Shumlin, who earned a 92 percent rating from the National Rifle Association two years ago and opposes any new state gun laws, the question appears more difficult to answer. If both houses of the legislature were to vote in favor of allowing Burlington to change its charter, the governor would have to decide whether to make use of his veto pen.

"You know how I feel about [gun laws] and I don't need to restate it, because there's been absolutely no change in what I've always told you," Shumlin said at a Montpelier press conference Wednesday. "What I do know is that I am a big believer in local control, and I believe that people should make their decisions locally. I'm not going to speculate on what decisions [Burlington voters] might make, because I don't want to influence those decisions. Obviously, if in fact a bill comes to my desk, I'd be happy to talk about it at that time."

So how exactly would he reconcile those two competing views — opposition to new gun laws and support for local control — if Burlingtonians were to back the charter changes?

"I'm supportive of local control," he said. "I didn't say that I agreed with Burlington on this issue, so I'm going to let local control do its work and see what comes out."

Pressed again by the Burlington Free Press' Terri Hallenbeck about whether, generally speaking, the legislature should approve a charter change favored by locals, Shumlin said that Vermont's founders "wisely set up our charter system... so that local control makes one judgment and then the legislature and the governor have the job of asking: 'Does this make sense in light of all the other communities across Vermont?'"

"So," he concluded, "we'll do our job if we need to, but I'm not going to speculate on whether we'll have to weigh it because I don't know whether it's going to pass, and I don't want to influence that."

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz was part of the Seven Days news team from 2012 to 2020. He served as political editor and wrote the "Fair Game" political column before becoming a staff writer.

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