(In the interest of balance, I think this diary deserves a front page presence. – promoted by Sue Prent)
I admit that I was quite surprised when our friend Senator Philip Baruth introduced his so-called assault weapons ban in the State Senate. It wasn't something I'd expected from any Vermont pol, and I am very glad he did it. Not that I necessarily support that idea here in our state with its history, gun culture, rural population, etc. Nor did I give it much of a chance of passage, at least in its original form.
That said, I think he did exactly what he ought to have done: saw a societal problem and as a legislator tried to begin the process of addressing it in Vermont. There are never guaranteed outcomes in the sausage factory. Yet it's clear that Phil's risky move did two important things: it started a very passionate debate, and it proved that the legislative process works.
First, by introducing a controversial bill such as S32, people from all over the political spectrum began arguing about its constitutionality, its general merits, and Vermont's role in the national problem. The larger debate in the US and the daily toll of firearm violence can seem fairly remote to us, and I don't think this discussion would've had a lot of immediacy without Phil's taking a big step ahead of our political community.
Second, he has in fact withdrawn his bill, as the Raptorman reported earlier. Senator Baruth heard from his constituents, he heard from people from all over the state, he heard from his caucus, and after all that wisely decided that it was better to take the ban off the table rather than push something that was out of sync with current political reality. The process worked exactly as it should, and one would hope that demonstrates to folks that we're a long way from any imagined tyranny.
Here's an excerpt from his statement to the other Senators for them to send to their constituents (posted with his permission):
It seemed to me that with the Federal government paralyzed, it had been left to the states to address both the mental health and gun-related components of these tragedies.
But it is painfully clear to me now that little support exists in the Vermont Statehouse for this sort of bill. It’s equally clear that focusing the debate on the banning of a certain class of weapons may already be overshadowing measures with greater consensus, like tightening background checks, stopping the exchange of guns for drugs, and closing gun show loopholes. Finally, as incoming Majority Leader, I owe it to my caucus to remove an issue that seems increasingly likely to complicate our shared agenda this biennium.
To the many responsible gun-owners with whom I’ve communicated over the last several weeks: I’ve heard you. Please hear me when I say that government is not your enemy – we are all alike threatened by the kind of violence we saw in Newtown, violence that is clearly spreading. And all of us are responsible for stopping it. It’s my hope that with this ban set aside, you’ll join more willingly in that effort.
I applaud Phil for his courage in proposing the bill, as well as for his courage in withdrawing it. I'm glad we have such a thoughtful and responsive leader in Montpelier, and I hope we all can continue having a fruitful debate with him and the rest of our citizen legislators about how we can protect liberty for all.
PS–As I noted in comments on kestrel's post, I was looking forward to hearings on the issue. I wasn't convinced the ban was a good approach for VT–despite its clear (to me) constitutionality per both SCOTUS and SCOV precedent–but I wanted to see what people said about its potential efficacy, if anybody had good data on our role as a net arms exporting state, etc.