Start making sense

Governor Shumlin is kicking off the New Year in an unusual way — scheduling news conferences on three straight days. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 11 a.m.

Good. That’ll give him three more chances to produce a coherent statement on gun control. Ever since the Newtown shootings, he’s tried and failed on multiple occasions.

Let’s look at some of his nonsense, shall we? In no particular order…

The 50-state approach. Shumlin insists that gun violence must be addressed on a nationwide basis, not by individual states. But, as Terri Hallenbeck pointed out, that puts the Governor at odds with himself on a range of issues.

When it comes to health care, this is what Gov. Peter Shumlin says: “If Vermont can get this right, the other states will follow.”

Name just about any other topic – same-sex marriage, shutting down nuclear power plants, penalties for marijuana, clean energy – and Shumlin expresses the same sentiment: Vermont should lead the way.

…This argument seems to transcend all issues except gun control.

Hallenbeck adds that a whole bunch of Democratic Governors are pursuing gun legislation in their own states. I guess Shumlin, as the new head of the Democratic Governors Association, should tell them to back off, because his colleagues are just wasting their time.

After the jump: an anecdote becomes proof, more about “crazy people,” and one man’s definition of leadership: doing nothing.

Gun laws don’t work because of a single incident. As reported in VTDigger:

“State by state won’t work,” said Shumlin, noting Connecticut has stricter gun laws than Vermont and the killings there occurred anyway.

There’s a whole lot of stupid in that small paragraph. First, he’s relying on anecdotal evidence to prove a general thesis. The Newtown shootings proved nothing about the efficacy of Connecticut’s gun laws. It was a single incident, and it could have happened anywhere. And I do hope the Governor isn’t making the NRA’s argument that tough gun-control laws cause gun violence. That’s the most unconvincing weapon in Wayne LaPierre’s arsenal.

The crazy-person fallacy.  The Governor recently disgraced himself by saying that we ought to do something to keep weapons out of “the hands of crazy, deranged people.” As discussed previously in this space, that’s not only offensive, it’s completely wrong. Most mass shooters had no previous diagnosis of mental illness. Mentally ill people are far more often the victims of violent crime than they are the perpetrators. So branding “crazy, deranged people” would do little or nothing to prevent future mass killings.

And even if you could somehow identify the “crazy, deranged people,” how do you keep them away from weapons? It certainly wouldn’t have prevented Newtown, because Adam Lanza got the guns from his own mother’s house. So how would you keep guns away from the crazies? Would you bar mentally ill people from living with people who own guns? Would you bar the relatives or friends or roommates or landlords of mentally ill people from owning guns? Good luck with any of that.

Shumlin continued to pound the “crazy people” argument this week, although thankfully he did drop the word “deranged.” I guess he’s still got this mental picture of the human monster killing machine frothing at the mouth and cackling maniacally as he mows down his victims. I hate to break it to you, Shummy, but that’s more of a movie thing than a reality thing.

Leadership by doing… nothing.  Shumlin told Seven Days that he has “a heightened sense of urgency to stop this kind of tragedy.” Well, he sure isn’t acting like it. He has called for a 50-state solution, but anyone with a thimbleful of political insight knows that national gun control is going nowhere with the current Republican majority in the U.S. House.

His “heightened sense of urgency” hasn’t resulted in any meaningful ideas. He hasn’t proposed or endorsed a damn thing except for somehow separating “crazy people” from assault weapons, and he hasn’t proposed a realistic idea of how to achieve that impossible goal.

And then there’s this:

“I will defend the rights of sportsmen and -women to own weapons until my dying day,” Shumlin added. “But in all my years of hunting, I’ve never seen an assault weapon in the woods. People don’t use machines of war to shoot whitetail deer.”

Which sounds like a call for an assault weapons ban. But from his other statements, I have to conclude that it’s not. I guess he’s just shaking his finger and saying “tut-tut” at people who feel the need to own assault weapons. But he doesn’t want to prevent them from doing so.

Vermont exceptionalism. Shumlin has also said that “Vermont should be a model for the country” on the use of lethal weapons.  By which I assume he means that the country should do nothing, since that’s exactly what he wants Vermont to do.

And if he’s talking, as I suspect he is, of Vermont’s attitudes being a model for the country, then I call bullshit. First of all, you can’t simply export a culture. You can’t take Vermont’s approach to guns and inject the same attitudes into the people of Florida or Texas or Alaska. Or even New Hampshire.

Beyond that, there’s the underlying notion that Vermont is somehow superior to other places, that our way of life is a cut above, that Vermonters are purer in spirit. As someone who’s lived here for six years, I can tell you that Vermont is a different place, but not in any meaningful way a better place. It has its advantages and its disadvantages. One of its disadvantages is that it tends to have an overinflated view of itself.

Vermont has very permissive gun laws, and very low rates of violent crime. But that has more to do with low population and a lack of large urban areas, than it has to do with the virtue of our character or the wisdom of our approach toward guns.

If you ask me, there’s a very simple basis for all this desperate gubernatorial spinning on the gun issue. He doesn’t want anything to be done; but in the wake of Newtown, he can’t say so. Instead, we get this cloud of octopus ink masquerading as leadership.  

6 thoughts on “Start making sense

  1. More states should produce milk and maple sugar products.  And ice cream.

    Hell, they should just copy all our statutes.  They’re online and everything!


  2. It did my heart good this New Year’s morning to read into Terri Hallenbeck’s blogpost about Shumlin and guns, a kind of validation of the progressive assumption:

    Name just about any other topic – same-sex marriage, shutting down nuclear power plants, penalties for marijuana, clean energy – and Shumlin expresses the same sentiment: Vermont should lead the way.

    That the Governor chooses not to lead on the issue of what he himself calls “weapons of war” is, unfortunately, another example of the Governor not failing to disappoint.

    Instead, he ducks and covers, first boasting that Vermont should be a model for other states with regard to guns and then insisting that it is a matter to be left to Federal lawmakers, whom he knows full well are unlikely to succeed in taking any action to stem the flow of semi-automatic weapons into the social milieu.

    Ms. Hallenbeck rightly points to the Governor’s NRA ties as a likely inhibiting factor.  I do not for one minute believe that the fact that the governor hunts has anything to do with his failure to lead on this issue; and suggesting that his or any other hunter’s failure to support rational gun reform has something to do with the traditional practice of wild game hunting in Vermont, is gross distortion and patently unfair to hunters as a whole, who are well-acquainted with fire power and the difference between the kind used for sporting game-hunts and the kind intended purely for man-hunts.

    When the Governor suggested that Vermont should be a model for other states, it was the same as saying “we don’t have a gun problem here.”   Well, Governor, the grossest incidents of mass-murder in recent years have occurred in communities where it was generally believed that there was no ‘gun problem.’

    In fact, a community controversy over impromptu shooting ranges and random gunfire in Highgate closely parallels a similar controversy that went on for months in Newtown Connecticut before the shootings occurred.

    We won’t have a “gun problem” in Vermont until we have a very big one.

  3. Thanks for critiquing Vermont exceptionalism.  It’s a bit like Lake Wobegon, where all the men are strong, the women good looking and the children above average.

    There is a long, long history behind it.  The seeds were sown early, during the Anglo, white settlement in the late 1700s.  It accelerated in the mid-1800s with the emigration of many Vermonters to the Midwest and other places, and it, as you point out, lingers today.

    What we don’t see beneath the glossy image painted by Vermont exceptionalism are the darker elements the myth obscures, but that is part of a much longer story.

    If you are interested, two great sources on this are:

    — Paul Searls, Two Vermonts: Geography and Identity, 1865-1910; and

    Celebrating Vermont: Myths and Realities, a rather hard-to-find publication done by Middlebury College celebrating Vermont’s bicentennial.  Nancy Graff did a great job as editor, and she contributed an insightful essay as did Kevin Graffagnino and William Lipke.

  4. The governor is quite obviously shuffling and head faking to avoid a head-on with the NRA. Not just the NRA, but a rural population used to the convenience of a partially useless set of laws governing the sale of firearms.

    That said, we do need uniform national laws. People can drive cars across state lines. Some do this from states and municipalities with rigorous firearm laws to states with lax laws, hire straw man purchasers, and drive home with a trunk full of guns. They also undoubtedly used the gun show exemption to avoid a background check.

    We could have gun laws like D.C. and people could still drive to NH or Maine (or farther afield) and buy what they want.

    Shumlin has the wrong motivation but the right idea.

    As for the GOP controlled House, that battle can be fought on the basis of some common sense laws that are surprisingly popular among NRA members and gun owners in general. For example, universal background checks, including closing the gun show exemption, has 75% approval among NRA members. Politicians have been playing defense with the NRA for so long they don’t realize a wedge issue when it stands in front of them jumping up and down.

  5. Overall, gun safety probably should be in the demesne of states (and municipalities) because they are best able to govern their unique circumstances and culture.  But that’s not mutually exclusive with Federal involvement in some nationwide aspects of the issue given Congress’ power to tax, legislate regarding interstate commerce, and regulate the militia (a partially overlapping power with states).  So we could see some minimum standards nationally, like no “unusual or dangerous” weapons (and ammo) banned, and the states do their own thing with regards to things like permitting, gun-free zones, whatever.

    Dean sorta punted, sorta had the right approach during the 04 campaign, suggesting that everybody’s different.  But he didn’t say VT should lead the way: he emphasized his point by noting how rural we are, that we have a different relationship with guns than other places, etc.

  6. What needs to be REGULATED NATIONALLY and State by State is the NRA’s power to block gun regulations, including sales and interstate shipping.  It’s like THE GUN is a PERSON with a very powerful lobbyist and advocate.  Imagine if us Justice and Peace people had such a powerful lobbyist and advocate?

    In 1990, Vt.’s Republican Congressional Rep, Peter Smith, was wiped out by the NRA for his rather mild support of gun control in the ’89 Congressional session.  The NRA targeted Smith and other candidates in 1990, and put a shitload of support behind Bernie Sanders–not because they liked ‘socialists’, but because they were sending a ‘message’ to national and state candidates that they had the POWER to make or BREAK them.   This situation SUCKS!

    Just recently, I scanned a story on the front page of the New York Times or Boston Globe that had the NRA ‘threatening’ Connecticut if that state tried to pass a Newtown Bill.  How?  The article said the NRA would call on all manufacturers and distributors of guns to LEAVE the state of Connecticut–thereby showing all State Legislatures that if you become gun-unfriendly, the NRA will getcha.

    So, Shumlin, Sanders, Leahy & Welch all have this big problem, as does the rest of our elected officials all over the country.  The NRA can direct the GUN INDUSTRY to take action against the elected officials (and their states) who dare to consider taking action on any kind of gun control.  Us regular slobs don’t have that power.  We will vote for Bernie and Shumlin and give them a pass on their positions on gun control (and the F-35, etc.).  Meanwhile the fucking NRA is allowed to target national and state candidates who say the wrong things about guns.  That’s why Shumlin sounds like he’s prevaricating–same with Bernie.  They’re Fucking SCARED Of The NRA!  Obama probably is too.

    And that is truly…well…SCARY.

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