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Vigil Held on Norwich Green for Third Anniversary of Sandy Hook



Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Norwich — Nearly 100 gun control advocates gathered along Main Street and held candles Monday evening to commemorate victims of mass shootings and to support efforts to regulate firearm ownership in Vermont.

The annual vigil, organized by Gun Sense Vermont, an advocacy group founded after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, was held along the Norwich green on the third anniversary of the massacre at the Newtown, Conn., school.

Though the gun control advocates meet in the same place, on the same date, every year, their message continues to find relevance in national news. In late November, a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.; earlier this month, a couple said to have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 14 and wounded 22 others in San Bernardino, Calif.

“It can feel like a Groundhog Day -type scenario,” Gun Sense member Melissa Weinstein said of the recurrence of these shootings, referring to the movie in which a man is doomed to relive, over and over, the same day of his life.

All the same, she added, “We intend to hang in there and keep coming back until our representatives give us what the majority of Vermonters want to see.”

This year, a regulatory bill supported by Gun Sense made its way through the Vermont Legislature, losing some of its more restrictive provisions in the process — including expanded background checks — as gun rights advocates turned out in opposition. The new law, which Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed in May, bars people convicted of serious crimes from owning guns and requires that state courts report to a federal database the names of people who have been legally determined to need mental-health treatment .

Attendance at this year’s vigil was greater than at last year’s, which in turn was greater than the year before — a turnout that Weinstein attributed to grassroots support.

“What’s new is that I think gun violence activists have been exhibiting the same tenacity as gun rights advocates,” Weinstein said. Gun control is no longer “unmentionable” among legislators, Weinstein said, and a Vermont gubernatorial candidate, Sue Minter, even has included it in her platform.

If the calls for increased firearms regulation are one spoke in a revolving wheel, another is the swell of gun sales that follows a well-publicized shooting.

Wayne Barrows, owner of Barrows Point Trading Post, a gun shop in Quechee, said he saw spikes in sales after each of this year’s massacres. Customers at those times visited to stock up, citing the killings and expressing fear that a crackdown on firearms would follow, he said in an interview earlier on 
Monday.

Rather than violent offenders, the law-abiding gun owners were the ones affected by the gun control movement, he contended.

“Most of them are trying to preserve what they’re doing for recreation,” he said.

Barrows said he didn’t know what could stop spree murders, but the solution, he believed, would come by treating the mentally ill, not by limiting their access to a certain kind of weapon.

“How do you stop this by passing a law?” he said. “You’re going to stop seeing it done with a gun — you’re still going to see it happen.”

Barrows said gun control advocates often ask him why enthusiasts need access to high-powered weapons like the AR-15, whose variants see use among police and the armed forces.

His usual response: because they just do.

“Why do you want a Corvette that goes 400 mph, when you only ever take it to 65?” he asked.

At Monday night’s vigil, Gun Sense member Bob Williamson, of West Woodstock, countered that firearms, especially military-style weapons with high-capacity magazines, were far more efficient as killing tools than, for example, a blade.

“Show me a drive-by knifing,” he said.

For half an hour Monday evening, participants lined the fence along the town green, standing next to candles in paper bags that bore the names of Sandy Hook victims. Every few minutes, Norwich Selectman Christopher Ashley rang the bell of the nearby Norwich Congregational Church.

During an organizing meeting afterward in the church, Weinstein said Gun Sense did not plan to introduce new legislation this session, though she said the group still favored the expanded background checks measure that failed to pass last spring.

Williamson told those in attendance that their work was the best way to circumvent Washington’s legislative deadlock on 
guns.

“The strategy is having victories in statehouses around the country,” he said, comparing grassroots, state-by-state support for gun control to the way that marriage equality spread across the nation.

Part of that work, Weinstein said, will involve supporting the state legislators who backed last year’s gun control bill.

“We have to help them get their jobs back,” she said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.