Upper Valley Residents Participate In Montpelier Gun Control Rally
Anne Lothes, of Quechee, holds a poster while listening to a speaker at yesterday’s rally in Montpelier in support of a ban on semi-automatic, assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. “We have the right to own guns,” she said, but There’s no reason for the average citizen to have military style weapons.”(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Williamson, of Woodstock, speaks on the Statehouse steps during yesterday’s rally. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Ann Naumann, of Richmond, Vt., holds a sign as supporters of a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines gather on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Montpelier — Bob Williamson was on a train when he first heard the news report: There had been a shooting at an elementary school, the same one both his daughters attended.
In was 1988 in Winnetka, Ill. Portable phones were rare. He had to wait until he disembarked to hear if his children were OK.
“It was worst 45 minutes of my life,” Williamson, now a Woodstock resident, said yesterday, standing on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier. “I could only hope for the best.”
They turned out to be unharmed, but one boy had been killed and six others, including five students, had been wounded.
That day was the impetus for Williamson’s long-standing support of gun control. It’s the reason he ended up at yesterday’s gun control rally in Montpelier.
More than 200 people from around the state gathered in front of the Capitol building, holding pithy signs and distributing literature on the dangers of the semi-automatic assault-style weapons on which they’re looking to enact legislation.
Advocates stressed that the laws they’re hoping for are of the “common sense” variety — for instance, reducing legal ammo clip sizes and creating greater safety regulations for gun use.
“We want to keep that dialog going,” said Sharon Racusin, of Norwich, while carpooling up to the state capital. “We don’t want it to stop.”
Racusin is a member of Communities Against Assault Weapons, a group of Upper Valley gun control advocates that formed after the Sandy Hook shooting in December. The group has been attempting to get an article on Town Meeting ballots that asks voters whether they would “instruct their state and federal legislatures” to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require criminal background checks for gun sales and make gun trafficking a federal crime.
The article will appear on Town Meeting ballots in Hartland, Norwich, Thetford, Strafford, Vershire and Woodstock.
“It’s the first time anything has gotten this far in Vermont,” Racusin said of state-level legislation, even though last month, a bill brought by Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden County, was dropped due to lack of support.
At first, it looked as though the Upper Valley residents were going to get a similar response in Montpelier. When Racusin, Kathleen Shepherd and Linda Gray, all of Norwich, arrived 15 minutes before the 10 a.m. start time, there were about two dozen people milling about the Statehouse lawn.
But the number had skyrocketed by the time Danielle LaFleur Brooks, who organized the rally, stepped up to the microphone.
“My personal goal,” said an emotional Brooks, toward the end of her introduction, “is if there is a shooter, I want that person to have to lift their finger. I want them to have to take their finger off any kind of weapon they are using.”
Shortly after Brooks introduced the speakers behind her, Richard Czaplinski, of Adamant and Warren, Vt., moved to the microphone.
“I’m a lifelong hunter,” he said. “I own guns. I go into the woods and get my deer, almost every year, with only one shot.”
He motioned to the sign held by Williamson, which had a drawing of an assault weapon and a directive to ban it.
“We don’t need those guns in the woods,” Czaplinski said, to heavy applause.
Yesterday’s well-attended rally — it was first conceived of less than two weeks ago — won’t be the only activity on the steps of the Statehouse this month, however.
Gun Owners of Vermont, which is “dedicated to a no-compromise position against gun control,” according to its website, will hold a rally of its own in front of the Statehouse this coming Saturday, from 12 to 2 p.m. That follows a similar rally last month that drew gun control opponents.
After yesterday’s event came to a close, Richard Neugass, of Norwich, said he thought gun control laws in Vermont would likely follow legislation on a larger scale.
“I think the results of the national legislation will play into what happens,” said Neugass, who added he was “hopeful” the laws would pass at both state and federal levels. “It might be an indicator of where people’s heads are.”
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.