Gun-control article may be on March ballots
By Sarah Brubeck
THE Valley News | January 07,2013
NORWICH — A group of residents has finalized a draft warning article calling for gun control measures that members hope to see debated on Town Meeting Day across Vermont.
Gun control has been a hot-button topic in the Upper Valley, as it has been nationally, since a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six teachers in Newtown, Conn.
Across the area, residents and officials have kick-started discussion groups to address the issue.
In Hanover, N.H., a separate group has organized a forum to discuss gun policy Sunday with state legislatures.
At the same time, SAU 70 Superintendent Frank Bass is weighing an offer from the Hanover Police Department to equip schools with surplus bullet-proof vests. Bass, however, noted that bullet-proof vests are not a high priority at this time for school personnel.
Norwich resident Laurie Levin organized a discussion group five days after the Newtown shooting in the basement of Norwich’s Tracy Hall. Within an hour, the group decided it wanted to place a warning on town meeting ballots that would demonstrate to state senators and representatives how Vermonters feel about gun control.
And if it passes?
“Then our next job would be to say to our Legislature and our governor and our federal and state representatives, here is what your citizens have said. Here’s a mandate,” Levin said.
The warning article Levin’s group drafted calls for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring criminal background checks for all gun purchases. It also calls for making gun trafficking a federal crime, with stiff penalties for “straw” purchases — those buying guns on behalf of convicted criminals.
Levin knows it’s a lofty goal to try to get the warning article placed on every town meeting ballot statewide, and she’d be happy with at least 50.
Levin finalized the warning and petition this week and now she and other members of the group will begin making contacts in other towns to find people willing to take them up.
Residents from Norwich, Thetford, Hartland, Strafford and Windsor have shown interest in the project, and Levin said she expects people to start volunteering to gather signatures in their towns. Members of the group will also start to reach out to schools and churches in various towns to find volunteers for the petitions.
“They will have our petition so they won’t have to recreate the wheel,” Levin said. “We’re presenting them with a product that is ready to go.”
Levin and at least one other volunteer also plan to travel to Montpelier on Wednesday with their petitions and attempt to make contacts in various towns.
But Levin and the group of volunteers will have to move quickly. The deadline to get signatures to place a warning on a town meeting ballot is Jan. 24, and town’s must get 5 percent of the registered voters to sign the petition. In Norwich, 5 percent of registered voters is about 165 signatures. Once the necessary signatures are acquired, the Select Board must give final approval.