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Group Hopes to Put Gun Control Question on Vt. Town Meeting Ballots

  • Corlan Johnson, of Norwich, presents research from Harvard University about the effects of gun buyback programs on suicides and homicides during an open discussion on gun policy at Tracy Hall in Norwich.(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Corlan Johnson, of Norwich, presents research from Harvard University about the effects of gun buyback programs on suicides and homicides during an open discussion on gun policy at Tracy Hall in Norwich.(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bob Stevens, of Norwich, discusses gun control at Tracy Hall in Norwich. A group of residents that met last night decided they would try to put a question on the ballot in Vermont towns asking voters if they support a ban on assault weapons. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Bob Stevens, of Norwich, discusses gun control at Tracy Hall in Norwich. A group of residents that met last night decided they would try to put a question on the ballot in Vermont towns asking voters if they support a ban on assault weapons. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Corlan Johnson, of Norwich, presents research from Harvard University about the effects of gun buyback programs on suicides and homicides during an open discussion on gun policy at Tracy Hall in Norwich.(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Bob Stevens, of Norwich, discusses gun control at Tracy Hall in Norwich. A group of residents that met last night decided they would try to put a question on the ballot in Vermont towns asking voters if they support a ban on assault weapons. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

A state representative, police chief, selectman, father, attorney, licensed gun dealer and 11 others sat around a rectangular table in a dimly lit room in Tracy Hall yesterday to talk about one thing: guns.

They were brought together in response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders and several adults.

Each person was drawn to the meeting for different reasons.

Joy Gaine, of Thetford, came because her niece was killed by a gunman in Arizona in 2007.

David Bucci, of Norwich, is a Connecticut native and has three children ages 3, 6 and 8.

Some were educators and mental health professionals. Others were retirees who had the time to research gun control.

No matter their background, there was a consensus that something must be done in America about the access to assault weapons.

A few hours prior to the Norwich discussion, President Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would spearhead an effort to develop concrete gun regulation proposals by January that Obama said he plans to “push without delay.”

The commander-in-chief stressed that access to mental health care should be as easy as access to guns and that the country needs to examine a culture that glorifies guns and violence.

“This is not some Washington commission,” Obama said. “This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside.”

The discussion last evening quickly turned to what 17 people in a meeting room in Vermont could accomplish.

State Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford, said there have several ideas tossed up in the last week, including arming teachers, which he said he did not support. His wife is a school administrator in the Northeast Kingdom.

“If you’re going to ask my wife now to become a firearm expert and to be prepared to act in a situation, I’d have to say excuse me, this is beyond what we’re asking our teachers to do,” Masland said.

“We may need to back into a solution by figuring out what isn’t sensible to do and then figure out what we can do this year and what we can do next year.”

Norwich Selectboard Chairman Christopher Ashley, a former school principal, said legislators need to see evidence of clear popular support for stricter gun laws before taking action.

“If we could get 10,000 people in Montpelier, that would give our legislators some protection,” Ashley said.

The gathering was organized by Laurie Levin, a Norwich resident and an attorney who specializes in mediation.

With Town Meeting in the offing, the group agreed that the best way for them to reach a large group of people would be to petition to place an article on each town’s warning that asks voters whether they support a ban on assault weapons, large capacity magazines and universal background checks on those who want to purchase a gun.

Everyone in the group agreed that they’d like to meet again and keep the conversation going.

When should they meet again?

“Next week,” someone offered.

Levin stepped in and said that might be too soon. She wanted to be respectful of the holiday season.

“I don’t think we have that luxury right now,” Bucci said. “Whoever can be here should be here. I’ll volunteer my house. We have to meet.”

The group decided it would meet at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 26 at a location to be determined.

“I think what we’re witnessing is a watershed moment in our country,” Levin said as the group filed out of Tracy Hall following the meeting. “It’s a movement.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.