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VTDigger: Minter says gun control is top priority

July 18, 2016

VTDigger: Minter says gun control is top priority

by Elizabeth Hewitt

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter says that gun control would be her top priority should she become governor.

“People say we don’t have a problem here in Vermont, but I know we do, and it is behind closed doors and it’s the issue of domestic violence,” Minter said.

If elected, Minter says that she will lead a push to establish universal background checks for all gun sales in Vermont.

“My goal is not to take guns away from law abiding citizens who pass a background check,” Minter said. “It’s to take it away from those who can’t.”

Minter said that guns are a major factor in domestic violence in Vermont.

“When I know what’s happening for women in unsafe situations, I’m going to stand up for them and I’m going to step up to the gun lobby and I’m going to work to get that done,” Minter said.

According to an annual report from the Vermont Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission in 2015, domestic violence was a factor in more than half of the homicides in Vermont over the last two decades. Firearms were involved in 71 of those 125 fatalities.

Minter said that she would support a ban on assault weapons as governor if the Legislature moved forward with a bill on that front, but that she would not take the lead on it.

Minter said that her decision to make gun control a leading part of her campaign sets her apart. She believes she is the first Vermont gubernatorial candidate to make gun control a platform issue.

It is up to lawmakers to act on a state level, she says, because of inaction on guns at a federal level.

“It is up to the states, and in particular states like Vermont to actually change that conversation, to lead that conversation,” Minter said.

Though Minter may be the loudest candidate on the issue of gun control, she is not the only one in the Democratic primary race to weigh in.

Both of the other Democrats in the field, former Google executive Matt Dunne and former diplomat Peter Galbraith, have also vocalized support for tighter gun laws and for expanded background checks.

In the wake of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub, Galbraith used a previously scheduled press conference to call for tighter gun restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets.

Dunne has also supported expanding background checks, as well as limiting access to guns by people on terrorist watch lists and with certain severe mental illness.

Meanwhile, as the candidates in the Democratic field have embraced the issue, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and businessman Bruce Lisman, the leading Republican gubernatorial candidates, have both said that they do not believe that Vermont’s gun laws need to be changed.

Eric Davis, a pundit and retired Middlebury College political science professor, said Minter may be more outspoken than others on the issue of gun control, but the Democratic candidates for Vermont’s top office have similar stances on most of the issues.

“I think in a low turnout primary like I expect this one to be, it’s going to be decided more on the basis of organization and field operations than on the issues,” Davis said.

Davis said that it is interesting “how much the three Democrats have in common, and how little the three Democrats have in common with the two Republicans.”

All three Democratic candidates will be speaking at a rally in support of universal background checks scheduled to take place on the Statehouse lawn on Aug. 4, hosted by Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden.

Baruth has led efforts to tighten restrictions on guns in Vermont in the past. Four years ago he introduced a bill that would have banned assault rifles. He was also a supporter of a provision in a gun bill in 2015 that would have established universal background checks. That section was ultimately stripped from the bill after several contentious weeks of hearings and political haggling.

But Baruth said that he feels that public opinion has coalesced around the issue recently.

He cited results from a poll published in February by Vermont Public Radio and Castleton Polling Institute, which found that 89 percent of participants supported background checks for all gun sales.

Baruth said that universal background checks would close what he sees as a loophole in current law, that allows people to purchase firearms at gun shows and through the internet. He referred to an article by a Seven Days reporter who recently purchased an AR-15 for $500 in cash by contacting a seller through Craigslist.

“I look at my own state and I say do I like the fact that Paul Heintz can buy an AR-15 with cash in a (Five Guys) parking lot and drive out with the ability to kill 50 people?” Baruth said.

The rally will publicize where many of the state’s leading Democrats stand on the issue, Baruth said, so “people won’t look around surprised and shocked that there’s a universal background check bill that goes in on the first day” of the next legislative session.