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Gun Control Article Passes in Close Vote in Hartland

  • Phil Bush, center, listens during Town Meeting at Damon Hall in Hartland yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Michael Heaney speaks from the balcony to Town Meeting attendees. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Marie Kirn raises her hand to speak during Town Meeting in Hartland. (Valley News - Libby March)

Hartland — Town Meeting rolled right along as the first several articles, including the $2.2 million town budget, passed easily, with little discussion yesterday morning. But when it came time to discuss gun control, the action slowed. Expecting tempers to flare, Moderator Pat Richardson took a few minutes to set the stage.

“We all understand there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue,” but per Robert’s Rules of Order, “there will be no personal comments or attacks,” Richardson said. “We will maintain order and decorum in this discussion.”

But for some murmurs of “not true!” when a resident in favor of the article seeking stiffer gun regulations cited statistics to bolster his position (Richardson told them to “hush”), people played by the rules. The measure passed in a relatively close vote after more than a dozen people had weighed in on both sides, often prompting applause.

For 45 minutes, Richardson took comments, alternating between those supporting and opposing the article, which called for legislators to ban certain guns, require criminal background checks for all gun sales and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

Dori Galton, who led efforts to place the article on the ballot, said suicide is the second leading cause of death among Vermont teens, but the state has no regulations requiring guns be locked. “This article is not about overturning the Second Amendment or preventing people from sport shooting,” Galton said. Instead, it’s a step toward “limiting deaths by guns.”

A few speakers, including Jackson Schonberg, worried that certain phrases in the article, such as “assault weapons,” were overly vague. The term is typically used by the media, he said, to describe “anything that looks like a military weapon down to ... all semi-automatic weapons.”

Schonberg added that it was possible to support one part of the measure while opposing others. His suggestion to split it into three parts and consider them one by one was voted down from the floor.

Anne Krauss cautioned that passing the article could have unintended consequences and said she didn’t think the proposed legislation would have prevented the Newtown tragedy.

Others said that the article was not designed as legislation, but to send lawmakers a message.

“I’m tired of doing nothing,” Mike Heaney said. “I’m tired of our legislators being intimidated by a small lobbying group with a lot of money.”

The other hot topic yesterday took place during presentations by state representatives. Selectboard member Mary O’Brien was among several residents who said the current use tax program results in unfair tax breaks for the wealthy, some of whom abuse the law. “What are they contributing to our community?” O’Brien asked.

“This jealousy and class warfare stuff” isn’t constructive, said Wes Raney.

Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, suggested reporting those who are violating the law, but Pat Rosson said she had already tried that.

“They said they didn’t have time to look into something like that,” Rosson said.

Several people said the law, designed as an incentive to preserve open land, was well intended but has had unintended consequences.

“The state would look very different if we didn’t have this law,” said state Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland. “People have come along and taken advantage of it.”

The three-hour long meeting, as intense as it sometimes became, was also tempered with lots of laughter.

The Hartland Conservation Commission presented its second annual conservation award to Mary Holland, a popular naturalist, photographer and writer. The announcement by Jennifer Waite, co-chairwoman of the commission, was met with applause, hoots and whistles.

Waite praised Holland for her enthusiasm for the natural world and ability to inspire the same excitement in others.

Waite’s lighthearted wish for Holland was greeted with laughter: “May you someday add another black bear fecal plug to your natural object collection.”

Voters passed all measures on the town ballot, including $60,000 for the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department and $31,000 to help fund 16 nonprofits that serve the town.

The same was true for the school ballot, which included an article asking to use $211,000 from the 2012 general fund surplus to create a reserve fund to offset future deficits. The $8.3 million school budget passed, 313-210.

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Vermont Town Meeting 2013: Complete Coverage

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