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In Norwich, Shumlin Gets Friendly Reminder on Guns

Bob Williamson instructs Gun Sense Vermont supporters to line up outside in anticipation of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s visit in Norwich on Thursday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Bob Williamson instructs Gun Sense Vermont supporters to line up outside in anticipation of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s visit in Norwich on Thursday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Norwich — About 20 people lined up outside the back entrance to King Arthur Flour late Thursday afternoon, many of them wearing green shirts emblazoned with “Gun Sense Vermont” in white letters across the front. A short while later the reason for their assembly emerged from a large black sport utility vehicle: Gov. Peter Shumlin, entourage in tow, arrived around 6 p.m., and as he made his way into the building for a scheduled dedication of a renovated Vermont Public Radio studio on-site, he shook each of their hands, high-fiving and hair-tousling some little ones along the way.

“We would like you to do something about Vermont gun laws,” Norwich resident Corlan Johnson, a member of the statewide gun control advocacy group, said as Shumlin shook her hand.

“How do you do?” he replied.

Indeed, participants in the brief demonstration acknowledged that Thursday’s event was neither the time nor the place for a disruption or debate on gun control. While Gun Sense members disagree with the governor’s long-held stance that gun control requires a “50-state solution” — Shumlin has repeatedly said that Congress needs to pass any new legislation to address firearm possession and that Vermont should not try to go it alone — several of the group’s members in attendance said they are actually fans of the parties who gathered inside for the private ceremony, including VPR, King Arthur Flour and even Shumlin himself.

VPR commentators and staff were mingling at the Norwich bakery and cafe to dedicate their basement-level studio — revamped and reopened after being closed during King Arthur Flour’s expansion — to the Stetson family of Norwich, who has supported the station for many years.

Nevertheless, Gun Sense members gathered outside, they said, because they knew Shumlin would appear there at a specific time, and they wanted to show him that their group is still around eight months after the Newtown shootings. They’re growing in numbers, they said, with about 600 members statewide, and they want the governor to keep gun control on his radar.

“It’s just a show of support and a reminder that we’re here,” said Woodstock resident Bob Williamson.

He disagrees with the governor, he said, because he believes the state is making it too easy for felons to traffic guns across borders and is avoiding the issue of its use in suicide.

Another member, Norwich resident Sharon Racusin, agreed. “We really want him to stop thinking of this as a 50-state solution and think of this as a Vermont solution,” she said.

But in an interview inside the event, Shumlin said while he was glad to see the members of Gun Sense had gathered Thursday night, his view toward a 50-state solution “hasn’t changed a bit.”

“We share the goal of wanting to ensure that the senseless acts of violence come to an end in this country, but we disagree on how to achieve that goal,” he said. “But we all have the same values and wish to see a safer country.

“I’m just a good common sense Vermonter. If the rest of the country treated guns the way Vermonters did, we wouldn’t have the challenges we have. ... My feeling is if you have different standards, different laws in different states, people who shouldn’t have guns will get them from the states where they shouldn’t get them. People who should have guns will have their guns abridged.”

Outside, the tone of the gathering — referred to as a “vigil” by organizers in an email sent to supporters Wednesday — was light from the start. A group started gathering around 5:30 p.m., hugging and shaking hands as new members arrived. A few young children, who also wore the green Gun Sense shirts, ran around the patio and grassy area behind the store and cafe.

Supporters moved inside shortly before 6 p.m., forming a group to greet the governor in the building’s entrance way, where many VPR commentators and staff had assembled for the dedication. But, deciding to avoid disruption, they moved back outside before the governor arrived.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.