Toby Talbot/Associated Press
MIDDLEBURY — Gun control in Vermont has always existed as an anomaly of legislation in comparison to the state’s otherwise progressive stance. During the 2016 presidential election, in a survey by The New York Times, Vermont was the only state where the majority of gun owners voted for the Democratic candidate. Indeed, the confluence of a rural landscape and progressive ideals has led state politicians to hold a distinctively centrist position when it comes to gun reform.
The mass shooting at the country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 has again ignited the debate around gun control in Vermont. A Vermont native, 35-year-old Sandra Casey of Dorset, was among the 58 victims killed in Las Vegas. In Washington, lawmakers are focusing on a deadly gun accessory known as the bump stock, which was used in the Las Vegas massacre. And once again, the Vermont legislature has taken up the thorny issue of the state’s gun laws.
Unknown to many at the college, students are allowed to bring their own personal firearms onto campus. Students need to register their guns with the Department of Public Safety, where they are kept under lock and key. But students can check out their weapons for hunting and other related activities whenever they wish.
Vermont law does not require a permit for shotguns, handguns or rifles, and therefore there are no additional proofs of permit required by Public Safety to keep a firearm of this nature on campus. Similar to the dualism present in the state, Middlebury’s crunchy campus also has a group of students who value having access to their firearms while at school.
“There are a small number of students, fewer than, 20, who store a weapon to participate in hunting or related activities,” Dan Gaiotti, associate director of Public Safety, said. According to article C.6. in the College Handbook, weapons are prohibited on campus. However, students are allowed to check out their guns from Public Safety for the activities listed above.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has engaged in the debate surrounding gun control before, often taking an uncharacteristically conservative stance. After the Sandy Hook massacre, he argued in a statement, “If you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen.”
The difference in the Las Vegas shooting is a firearm accessory that has become a flashpoint in the debate on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks. The “fire bump stock,” or bump stock, is an add-on for semi-automatic weapons to enable them to more closely resemble a fully automatic firearm. A dozen were found in the hotel room of the Las Vegas shooter.
Both Republican and Democratic Congressmen have proposed bills that would ban the production and distribution of bump stocks. Although the National Rifle Association initially backed such a ban, the organization announced on Oct. 13 that it did not support the proposed bills. The N.R.A. cited ripple effect on other firearm accessories for its about-face on a bump stock ban. The group also said it hoped that bump stocks could be addressed through regulation, instead of law, by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
Although the partisan divide remains, both sides are narrowing in on necessary reform. At a news conference on Oct. 4, Sanders stressed the need for immediate gun reform. “While it is too late for the victims in Las Vegas, and the victims in Newtown, and the victims in Charleston, and the other terrible shootings we have seen, it is not too late to prevent the next set of innocent Americans from becoming victims,” he said.
In contrast to other shootings, the emergence of the bump stock with the Las Vegas massacres has given representatives a tangible point of reform. The ATF does not see things as clearly. Bump stocks were approved by the agency prior to the mass shooting, and now legislators are scrambling to figure out how and why.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has asked the ATF to provide an explanation for the allowance of bump stocks. During a weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, Ryan called for a regulatory regulation of the automatic accessories, as opposed to a legislative one, enraging Representatives who believe a vote should be brought to the House.
“That’s really just a way of saying they don’t want to stand up and be counted on the question of whether bump stocks should be illegal,” Vermont Rep. Peter Welch (D) said in an interview for Vermont Public Radio. “And it mystifies me, really, because fully automatic weapons are appropriate in combat, [but] they’re illegal in civilian life, they’re illegal.”
The waning fervor surrounding gun reform, only weeks after Las Vegas’s mass shooting, has prompted states to take the debate of bump stocks upon themselves. Last Thursday, the state Senate in Massachusetts voted 33–0 to ban the sale and possession of bump stocks and other accessories that allow firearms to mimic the rapidity of automatic weapons. A day earlier, the Massachusetts House approved the bump stock ban 151–3, leaving the bill ready for the signature of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. He had already agreed to approve the ban if it passed both the House and Senate.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has joined forces with Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders to back comprehensive federal gun reform in the aftermath of Las Vegas. But at this point, it is unclear whether the elected officials will follow the sovereign route forged by Massachusetts, or will continue pressing Rep. Ryan in the House to allow a vote on the matter.