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Assault Gun Ban up for Vote In Hartford

Town Hopes to Make Voice Heard  On Weapon Control to Lawmakers

Hartford — Voters will have the chance to weigh in on a gun control article that circulated around the Upper Valley a month ago at Hartford’s annual floor meeting tomorrow.

It will likely be the most spirited discussion of the meeting, which has been mandated by Hartford’s town charter since it went into effect in 2010.

“It was clearly something that people wanted to talk about, and feel like they had some input on,” Selectman F.X. Flinn said as to why the Selectboard added the article to the more traditional meeting day.

Other articles include appropriations for four statewide nonprofit organizations, each for less than $1,000, and compensation for elected town officials. The meeting starts at 10 a.m. at the Hartford High School gym.

The gun control article, which would seek to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require background checks on every gun purchase and make gun trafficking a federal crime, also penalizing “straw purchasers,” was debated in seven Upper Valley towns on Town Meeting day in March. Six of those towns passed it. The lone outlier, Vershire, tabled the discussion.

The article passed in Strafford 132-47, Bradford 57-43, Woodstock 707-186, Norwich 898-132 and in Hartland and Thetford by voice vote.

The article is not actual legislation; instead, it is meant to send a message to state and federal legislatures.

The Hartford meeting will occur about a month after the traditional glut of Town Meetings due to language in the town charter, which moves the town away from a sole floor meeting and into a hybrid setup.

The charter mandates a floor meeting five weeks after the Australian ballot elections, when defeated school or town budgets can be reconsidered and voted upon. In 2010, the school budget was defeated, and Flinn said 1,000 people packed into the gym to pass a new one.

“Since then, both budgets have passed each time, and hence, at the floor meeting there’s much less to discuss,” Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster said.

So, during the lead-up to Town Meeting, the board mulled ways to attract Hartford residents who had already voted on budgets and other articles. Flinn estimated about 100 people would come to the meeting “with some level of interest” in the gun control article, though he figured the meeting would play host to at least double that number overall.

“It would be fantastic if there was a really good discussion, and then a series of motions to amend the main motion that crafted language that almost everybody could support,” Flinn said. “That might point the way forward for elected officials across the country, and maybe it would become known as the ‘Hartford, Vt., Solution,’ and we’d be on the map.”

Besides the gun control resolution, the four articles for non-profits are a proposed $869 for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, $999 for Vermont Adult Learning, $975 for the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and $845 for The Vermont Center for Independent Living.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.