Common Sense: Criminal Background Checks

I got my first gun when I was eleven. I’d taken the NRA safety course at Camp Timanous in Maine and, as a reward, was given a Winchester .22 rifle by my parents. I was only allowed to use it for target practice, shooting rats at the dump, and small game hunting with Dad.

My niece was a pre-Olympic Biathlon competitor who owned a precision rifle and cross-country skis, though she never killed anything.

When I was growing up, guns were mostly for hunting. There was a robust and respected hunting culture in Vermont. Little land was posted; people respected each other’s property and fathers taught their sons to hunt. Although the suicide rate was one of the highest in the nation, the homicide rate was one of the lowest.

When my own son decided to hunt, we went to a gun shop to buy a 30.06. We were both surprised by what we saw. The main floor looked like a military hardware convention – Sig Sauer, Glock, M&P, and Walther pistols, semi-automatics and assault rifles. I’ll spare you the animated sales pitches we overheard. Hunting rifles were in a separate section upstairs.

Today, the NRA is a more of a trade organization for gun manufacturers than an association of sport hunters. It depends on fear, machismo, and a narrow definition of patriotism to drive sales. A recent NRA member’s effort to encourage a boycott of Brattleboro Reformer advertisers because the paper ran an op-ed encouraging background checks appears to be failing.

Vermont’s annual homicide rate is only about a dozen, but according to Reuters, Chicago experienced 40 shootings in one weekend alone this summer, resulting in four deaths, including that of an 11 year-old girl.

The recent mass shootings of school children, the widespread failure to maintain gun-related death statistics, and a legal challenge to pediatricians’ practice of asking about the presence of guns in a house with children are only a few of the gun-related events and issues we are currently forced to tolerate.

Proposed legislation to require criminal background checks on gun purchases, as is the law in many other states, is meeting resistance in Montpelier, including from our Governor.  But with the increasing stresses of poverty, addiction, and unemployment, domestic violence is on the rise – with a 138% increase over last year in hotline calls for help or advice.

We owe it to our family members, friends and neighbors to at least make an effort to keep weapons out of the hands of people not competent to own them and… yes, we need more hunters in our woods.

One Response to “Common Sense: Criminal Background Checks”

Thank you for your wonderfully clear and spot on opinion piece on guns.

The vocal opposition to S.31, the bill just introduced last week in the State Senate that seeks to close the loophole in the current background check law is, I have unfortunately discovered, a different breed of Vermont gun owner. I would describe those I have met as generally fearful people. Some describe a need to protect themselves against a rogue government. Others have a general lack of confidence in law enforcement. They fear a slippery slope leading to confiscation of their guns. I have a great deal of compassion for people who live in fear but they must not drive sound and sensible public safety policy.

Next Tuesday, Feb. 10th between 4 PM and 8 PM, I am hoping that the type of Vermont gun owners you describe from your childhood and do still exist, will turn out in force to say that closing the loophole in the State’s background check law is a move they support. Maybe you will be there too?