‘It Is Your Responsibility’: Norwich Police Chief Offers Advice On Gun Safety
Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson holds up a gun trigger lock while speaking about how to teach children about firearm safety at Marion Cross School in Norwich last night. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Elizabeth Anderson, of Norwich, asks about teens and firearm safety during a community discussion about guns at Marion Cross School in Norwich last night. Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson responded that kids should be instructed to leave immediately if they see a gun in an unsupervised social situation. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Norwich — The police chief stressed that open communication about gun safety is the key to keeping children safe and amending state laws, during a community discussion devoted to firearms last night.
In the Marion Cross School library, Chief Doug Robinson shared firearm storage advice with about 20 community members, many of them gun control advocates, and emphasized how crucial safety and accountability are in a state that allows residents to carry rifles, handguns and shotguns without a permit.
“If you’re going to own a firearm, it is your responsibility to properly handle it,” said Robinson, whose talk was sponsored by the school, the police department, the Norwich Parent-Teacher Organization, GunSenseVermont and AgingInPlaceNorwich.
Over the course of an hour, Robinson walked through a slide presentation of suggestions and took questions from the audience about the current state Legislature regarding gun use.
He encouraged every resident in attendance to take several gun locks that were available for free last night and disperse them among their friends, insisting that they should be used in addition to secure storage.
With three out of seven families in Vermont owning guns, he said, practicing safety and education are paramount.
“Know how to remove ammunition,” he urged. “Know how to close the action. Check to see if it’s loaded and always keep it pointed in a safe direction away from people. And until you’re ready to shoot, keep your fingers off the trigger. If you can’t handle those responsibilities, I would advise that you not own a gun.”
People concerned with gun safety should be direct and frank about their concerns, he said, and take every precaution, especially if they have children.
“You have the right to know if your child is safe in another person’s home,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to ask them if they have guns in their home.”
Robinson said that he raised his two children to leave a house where guns were kept out in the open, and several of his friends understood and respected his policy.
“It’s what you do already,” he said. “You don’t have to be confrontational, just make it a conversation.”
He then gestured to one of his slides: the letter nine glared in large, red font.
“That’s the number of children who will die today in the U.S. from gunfire,” Robinson said.
Large sighs came from the audience.
“That’s based on statistics from the Internet,” he explained. “But, regardless, that number should be zero.”
Bob Williamson, of Woodstock, nodded.
“Yeah,” he said, scribbling notes into his yellow pad.
“It all comes down to safe gun handling,” Robinson continued.
“Exactly,” Williamson responded.
More than 20 years ago, Williamson said his family was involved in an episode of gun violence when a woman went on a shooting spree at Hubbard Woods, a school in a suburb near Chicago, killing one child and wounding five others.
His two daughters attended that school, Williamson said.
At the time, he taught in the city and was taking the train home. The first news he heard was through his Walkman radio, he said.
“All I could do was sit there and wonder if my daughters were victims,” he recalled.
His daughters survived, he said, but only by “sheer blind luck.”
“An incident like that really changes you,” he said. “Ever since then, I vowed to fight for gun control measures.”
At yesterday’s talk, he asked Robinson how he felt about safe storage laws that would penalize gun owners should accidents result from their improper care, laws that Vermont has yet to embrace.
“I absolutely support it,” Robinson said. “I wish there was one.”
Still, Robinson said, gun safety programs do not guarantee gun safety at home.
“That’s up to you,” he said. “You play a large role in getting the conversation started and keeping our children safe.”
That point hit home with Joy Gaine, of Thetford, a mother of a kindergartner who says she lost her 20-year-old niece about six years ago to a senseless act of gun violence.
“We have to strive to separate safety from politics,” she said, “because once things get political, you shut the conversation down and make it hard to have a rational talk.”
Had there been more background checks or gun-control measures, her niece might still be here today, she said. “Now’s the time to get passionate about this,” she said. “I want people to be comfortable having these talks.”
Like Gaine, Terri Ashley, a 64-year-old grandmother and former teacher at the school, walked away with a similar opinion.
“We have to get used to asking families about gun safety,” she said. “We would ask about alcohol or about parental supervision. Why not ask about this?”
Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.