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Hartford Postpones Gun Control Vote

  • Hartford Selectman Alex Defelice, left, talks with Hartford residents Scott Willey, right, Mike Morris, second from right, and another man who declined to give his name outside the Hartford Town Meeting yesterday. The three were waiting for the town’s school presentations to finish before joining the meeting to hear the debate on a resolution on gun control. The resolution was tabled without debate. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hartford Selectman Alex Defelice, left, talks with Hartford residents Scott Willey, right, Mike Morris, second from right, and another man who declined to give his name outside the Hartford Town Meeting yesterday. The three were waiting for the town’s school presentations to finish before joining the meeting to hear the debate on a resolution on gun control. The resolution was tabled without debate. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Luke Eastman, of White River Junction, seconds a motion to table a resolution on gun control during a Hartford Town Meeting yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Luke Eastman, of White River Junction, seconds a motion to table a resolution on gun control during a Hartford Town Meeting yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford Selectman Alex Defelice, left, talks with Hartford residents Scott Willey, right, Mike Morris, second from right, and another man who declined to give his name outside the Hartford Town Meeting yesterday. The three were waiting for the town’s school presentations to finish before joining the meeting to hear the debate on a resolution on gun control. The resolution was tabled without debate. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Luke Eastman, of White River Junction, seconds a motion to table a resolution on gun control during a Hartford Town Meeting yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — Hartford yesterday became the second Upper Valley town to forestall voting on a gun control article that had been passed in various other towns during their traditional March Town Meetings.

Instead, a motion to postpone the question indefinitely passed narrowly by voice vote.

“When I read this warrant item the way it was issued, it seems pretty clear to me that if I vote against it ... I am somehow supporting the murder of children,” said Susan Buckholz, an attorney who lives in Quechee, who said the language in the article violated a Vermont statute that deals with “improper influence.”

The article ends with two sentences that caused Buckholz’s consternation:

“Our efforts cannot bring back the 20 innocent children murdered in Newtown, CT — or the 33 people murdered with guns every day in America. But we can prevent future tragedies by passing common sense legislation.”

It was the penultimate article at yesterday’s annual floor meeting, which has been held five weeks after Australian Ballot voting since the Hartford town charter was passed in 2010. Generally, the traditional meeting portion of the hybrid model has been used for reconsidering budgets that had been defeated during March voting.

That only happened in the charter’s inaugural year, when the school budget was voted down. Since then, the school board and Selectboard have tried to give residents a reason to come to the April meeting when there’s no budget to discuss.

Yesterday, enough people showed up to fill the seats on the gym floor and make a reasonable dent in the bleacher seating. A large majority seemed to be there for the gun control article.

The article is a non-binding resolution that would be used to send a message to federal and state legislatures, showing them that the town agrees that “assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines” should be banned, a criminal background check should be required for every gun purchase and gun trafficking should be a federal crime.

In March, it passed in Strafford 132-47, Bradford 57-43, Woodstock 707-186, Norwich 898-132 and in Hartland and Thetford by voice vote. Hartford and Vershire are now the two Upper Valley towns to not pass the resolution.

The close vote comes at a time when fewer people support stricter gun control legislation compared to right after the December shooting in Newtown. Then, 57 percent of people favored stricter laws, according to a CBS News poll. In a new CBS News poll released on March 26, that number had dwindled to 47 percent.

But advocates were frustrated that the article was brought up and shot down so quickly.

“I am so disappointed that we couldn’t have the discussion,” said Myrna Brooks, of Quechee, after the meeting. Brooks’ daughter Danielle organized a gun control rally in Montpelier in February.

When Myrna’s husband, Richard Brooks, tried to speak about the advantage of passing the bill after the motion to postpone it had been made, he was pronounced out of order because his remarks weren’t about the postponement itself. The motion went to vote soon after.

“We could have had a good discussion; we could have found common ground,” said Selectman F.X. Flinn afterward, adding that “stifling debate like that is exactly the wrong way” to move forward, even though the process to get there was legal.

Rob Wilson, of Quechee, who was lingering by the exit in the school’s hallway following the meeting, said that the fact that a simple majority voted to postpone the article showed that the gun control side wouldn’t have had enough votes to pass the actual resolution, if it came to that.

“So why not have the vote?” Flinn asked.

“Because we had a motion on the floor,” Wilson said. “If we pass this, it’s over.”

Several gun control advocates nearby noted they would work to put a similar article on the Town Meeting warning next year, and soon they were amiably discussing finer points of the gun control debate with Wilson.

“This is the conversation that should have been had,” lamented Laurie Levin, of Norwich, one of the people who spearheaded the creation of the article.

Besides the gun control resolution, voters passed four spending articles to provide funds for statewide non-profits: $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.

All of those, plus compensations for elected town and school officials, went through without any discussion.

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