Milton lawmakers are generally staying mum on the issue of gun control a week after a forum brought speakers from both sides of the debate to Milton High School.
Last Tuesday, about 60 people gathered in the MHS auditorium to speak on possible gun control measures introduced in the Vermont Legislature.
Three such bills were presented after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla. school shooting and after a former student in Fair Haven was arrested for allegedly planning a shooting there.
One would institute universal background checks for gun buyers, another would raise the buying age from 18 to 21 and the third would allow police to remove firearms from people who threaten violence with them.
Minority Leader Don Turner and Rep. Chris Mattos, both Republicans from Milton’s Chittenden 10 district, were joined by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Rep. Ben Joseph, Democrats from Grand Isle-Chittenden, which represents part of Milton. The legislators sat silently on stage as the attendees lobbed questions their way.
A week later, Turner and Joseph addressed the town hall in their weekly Messages from Montpelier columns submitted to the Independent – the content of which is at their discretion – but largely avoided saying how they’d vote on any gun measures. The legislature has not been in session since the forum last week.
Turner said “lawmaking is about compromise” but said the messages conveyed last week don’t leave much room for it. He vowed to weigh potential outcomes and to support a bill that “does more good than bad.” Joseph took the opportunity to clarify the government will not take guns away from law abiding Vermonters.
The news should please the majority of speakers last week, who were opposed to controlling the purchase and ownership of firearms. Many repeated refrains that surface in gun control debates nationwide.
Mike Morgan, a colonel in the Vermont Air National Guard, said the majority of gun owners are responsible and don’t use them to commit crimes. He blamed the national media for anti-gun sentiment and suggested schools install staff trained in firearms, a notion proposed by President Donald Trump.
Joe Duquette agreed with Morgan, adding criminals don’t obey gun laws. He said if an 18-year-old can go to war and pay taxes, he or she should be able to own any type of gun.
“It’s not going to do anything talking about assault weapons bans. An assault weapon is anything that’s attached to a bad guy looking to kill people,” he said. “That’s what we need to stop. … Don’t go after good guys with guns.”
Randy Barrows, a Chittenden County sheriff from Milton, said gun violence in the U.S. is a societal problem and said the country needs a revamped mental health system.
“Nobody in their right minds wants to go take someone’s life with a firearm,” he said.
David Graham of Grand Isle concurred, saying the legislators should “consider the lack of discipline and parenting at home.” He suggested violent television and video games could also be to blame.
“If you haven’t seen one, sit down with a 12- or 13-year-old,” he said. “There’s no attachment or sense of empathy or the consequences of what they might be doing if it’s a real person. I think this is de-socializing them, and I think that’s serious.”
Milton High School student Caitlyn Lamotte, a member of Milton Students for Social Justice, disagreed, saying citizens of every country in the world experience mental illness, “but no country has school shootings like we do.”
Lamotte begged lawmakers to institute gun control measures and dismissed the idea that arming staff would protect students since the Parkland school police officer didn’t attempt to take down the shooter.
“It won’t work when I’m murdered walking into school because some kid was able to get an AR-15,” Lamotte said. “The fact that you guys value my life below a gun is insane.”
Milton High School student Emily Pallas, a MS4SJ member and daughter of a hunter and a teacher, called for change.
“It’s time to wake up and realize the problems that we face,” she said. “Guns do not belong in my school, and they will never. I know my generation will be the ones to stop this gun problem.”
Curt Randall, a grandparent and counselor, took a wider view, saying people should continue to dialogue about tough issues. He thinks the community should consider investing in school staff to talk with children about issues they face.
“[We could] have conversations, maybe debates, like we’re having here tonight,” he said. “I might not agree with a lot that was being said here, but I’m hearing it now.
“If we don’t put people in the schools to do the work we’re talking about tonight, nothing is going to change,” he continued. “It just isn’t.”
Asked for comment, Mattos thanked everyone for coming and encouraged those who didn’t make it to reach out so he can be informed on upcoming votes. Johnson didn’t return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.