Shame on us. For every single day, we citizens, our students, their teachers and their families wonder whether someone stalking the school halls could force their days to end in tragedy. And yet we still sit on our hands.
Shame on us, as we click our tongues and shake our heads while doing nothing to stop the abusive so-called “freedom” of gun fanatics to trump the rights of the rest of us to live without fear of a bloody death.
Shame on the unshackled Second Amendment, that allows “just being a person” with mental health issues to act out in sociopathic displays that harm the health of others.
For example: On Jan. 2, two days after a gunman killed 10 people at a Colorado grocery store, Rico Markey went into the restroom at a Publix supermarket in Atlanta. He came out wearing a frightening costume: body armor, four handguns in his jacket pockets, a semiautomatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun in a guitar case. People scattered in panic. Nobody was killed, and his lawyer said, despite the fear Markey caused, “Mr. Brant said he was, ahem, ‘just being a person,’ doing what he had the right to do.”
The bottomless stupidity of some people’s devotion to guns is killing us all — not just physically, but also socially and spiritually. We’re losing not just our lives, but our souls.
To wit: On Jan. 7, a 6-year-old (!) child in Newport News, Virginia, shot and critically injured his teacher. “This is a red flag for the country,” noted the city’s flummoxed mayor. “I do think that after this event, there is going to be a nationwide discussion on how these sorts of things can be prevented.”
Been there, done that.
Shame on politicians who call for “nationwide discussions” since Sandy Hook and still do nothing to keep the country from swimming in guns, with Vermont being a prime source for buyers. According to the CDC, Vermont had the highest firearm mortality rate in New England in 2020. Most of the deaths were suicides, followed by homicides — with domestic violence a leading cause — and accidents.
Shame on those who refuse to stand up for the rights of millions of children to be safe in their own homes. A publication by the Annals of Internal Medicine in February 2022 found 7.5 million U.S. adults — just under 3% of the population — became first new gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021. This, in turn, exposed 11 million people to firearms in their homes, including 5 million children.
America is a violent country, and the threat of mass murder in America has existed since its beginning.
Every day, teachers and the school administrators at MHS, where I coach the debate team, go into classrooms wondering whether they will be in the sights of some deranged, angry person wielding an AR-15. The daily suspense haunts them and all our children, forcing them into lockdown drills for fear of an anonymous assailant with a gun. This experiment is beyond cruel: it’s downright sadistic. What kind of adults can these frightened kids grow up to be, when they are so sent into daily fear by unknown assassins?
And yet, this daily journey into horror-film fear goes on, enabled by politicians who are too cowardly or beholden to the NRA to stop it.
So, shame on Governor Scott. Our state has the 16th highest rate of gun trafficking in the nation because our laws are weaker than any state around us. Scott vetoed SB.30, a bill that would have banned firearms in hospitals. So, really, Phil, you think it’s OK to carry a gun into the I.C.U.? How beyond sick is that? Our new state representative, Becca Balint, said, “Fundamentally, (SB.30) is about keeping guns out of the hands of people with histories of domestic abuse or other dangerous behavior. I’m surprised Governor Scott wouldn’t support that.” Care to offer your thoughts and prayers when more people get killed, Governor?
Meanwhile, Vermont remains an easy place for criminals to get their hands on weapons. Vermont also has the highest rate of gun deaths in New England. And as an “open carry” state, Vermont invites sociopaths like Markey to display their ridiculous phallic insecurities in public. Occasionally, you can see such people on the street right here in Montpelier, dressed in their oh-so-brave, in-your-face, gun-displaying camo.
But let’s get back to the kids.
Here’s how gun depravity plays out right here in our schools. When an 18-year-old Montpelier High School student made threats, police seized an AR-style .22 rifle, a 7 mm .08 hunting rifle, magazines and ammunition from the student’s home. “Ever since I saw that, I guess I’ve just been a little more on edge,” Diego Harper, an MHS sophomore, told WCAX. “I mean, I’m just trying to go to school and learn and do the things I’m supposed to do, and I shouldn’t really have to be worrying about the people in the building being threats to me.”
Shame on us for not assuring that everyone in our schools has the right to feel safe. “It’s kind of unfair to all of us because nobody should have to worry about that stuff. Seeing the cops at school, it makes me feel safer, but you shouldn’t have to have that. You shouldn’t have to walk into three cop cars at your school,” said Eric Guczek-Nasab, a CVU student.
And despite everything, the threats strewn by gun nuts, and the deaths, continue. The rate of gun fatalities in Vermont is the highest across New England, at 11.6 per 1,000 people. Massachusetts, on the other hand, our neighbor with strong gun laws, 3.7 per 1,000 people.
The evidence is clear: When there are fewer guns, there are fewer deaths.
Vermonters love to hunt animals and are strong supporters of the right to bear arms. That doesn’t mean we have to support would-be murderers. With this in mind, we say: Responsible gun owners need to lead the way by showing that we Vermonters will not tolerate preventable violence. Just as we do not freely distribute a driver’s license, we should not distribute military-grade weapons to any who want one. And just as we instituted an amendment to our Constitution to protect reproductive freedom, we need to do the same thing around protecting our children and families and teachers and communities in general from gun violence.
How many more days and how many more lives before we stop the blood? How much time will it take for us to find the courage to make reasonable change? For the sake of everyone, each of us needs to push our governor, senators and representatives for an assault-rifle ban. We must patch cracks such as the Charleston loophole — don’t allow someone who fails a background check to obtain a gun if that check is delayed. We have to mandate universal background checks to stop dangerous individuals and their transgressions. If we don’t, we will continue to lose Vermonters to gun violence every day.
To that end, I urge you to do all you can to support GunSense Vermont. Founded in 2012 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, GunSense Vermont works statewide to educate on the need for precautions and legal reforms. You can give to the 501©3 GunSense Vermont Education Fund so it can organize new and existing volunteers, as well as keep working toward goals that include more public education and better data collection around gun incidents. The fund also supports outreach and partnering with schools, social service organizations, and mental health allies to strengthen supports for at-risk individuals. GunSense Vermont is also advocating for a law that requires guns to be kept out of the hands of children like that 6-year-old in Virginia who may wind up using them.
As Conor Casey, the head of GunSense Vermont, notes: “None of us needs to feel helpless or hopeless.” And each of us must work every single day to keep ourselves, our children and each other safe. It’s literally a matter of life or death.
Bronwyn Fryer lives in Montpelier.