Protesters calling for tougher gun laws in Vermont turned out in droves this weekend to join the national March for Our Lives. They gathered at rallies organized in Rutland, Middlebury, Manchester, Putney and Bennington. Perhaps the most notable turnout was in the state’s capital, Montpelier.
Some 2,500 rally goers arrived at the statehouse with signs and banners just before noon on Saturday, March 24. Young and old, these protesters had come from all over Vermont. Their demands echoed those of students from Parkland, Florida, who lost seventeen classmates to a school shooter in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Participants in the Montpelier rally called for bans on bump stocks and high capacity magazines, but perhaps most importantly, they called one another to action.
“I want to know how many kids need to die before change starts,” said Susan Apgar of Lyndonville. She was attending the rally with her two young daughters, Maggie and Alida. “It’s my concern with both my kids that they could be next.”
“When I was a freshman in 1999, Columbine happened,” said Amy Williams of Montpelier. “My heart breaks for anyone who’s affected by this, and for the people who aren’t old enough to vote yet but old enough to be killed. I’m standing here crying with sunglasses on.”
“These kids have an amazing mission ahead of them, and I want to support them,” said Kristen Grindal-Keller, a school teacher and guidance counselor from Stowe. “We talk a lot about how we feel bad for the students and their families in Florida, but it’s not enough.”
Members of the grassroots organization GunSense Vermont set up voter registration tables along the Statehouse sidewalk. They encouraged those in attendance to register, handing out buttons and stickers which read “background checks save lives.”
“I’m hoping this will help put some spine into lawmakers,” said Anne Pietryka of Randolph. “If the students of Parkland can bring about some kind of change that the parents of Sandy Hook weren’t able to, then more power to them.”
As a state, Vermont has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the country. You don’t need a permit to conceal carry, and background checks are not required for private gun sales. Vermont gun owners also aren’t required to have any kind of license, and they don’t need to register their weapons. There’s no state permit for Vermont required in the purchase of firearms.
“It’s ridiculous that there are so many guns and that the regulations on them are so lax,” said Alice Dodge of Montpelier.
“I think the people who are against the regulation of firearms use the second amendment a little bit more than they maybe should,” said Tim Parent, a teacher from Danby. “We have the right to bear arms, but those arms are supposed to be well regulated according to the constitution.”
“It’s ridiculous to think that arming teachers is the solution to gun violence in schools,” added Ellen Parent, who also teaches in Danby. “Putting more guns in the schools isn’t going to stop gun violence.”
A single counter protestor from Lowell stood out among the crowd, waving a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. He was dressed in orange, a color typically associated with hunters and gun owners. On the day of the rally, however, this was also the color of the March for Our Lives.
“We need to start protecting kids, not guns,” said Jenny MacDougall, a teacher and mother from Marshfield. She’d come to the protest carrying her baby daughter on her back. “It’s shrouded in this thoughts and prayers sentiment, and that’s useless. I’m tired of kids and teachers getting shot.”
Beverly Houghton and Jenny Deupree traveled together from Hanover, New Hampshire to join the rally in Montpelier. “The tide of anti-gun sentiment is rising,” said Beverly, who had re-purposed her sign from an environmental protest last year. “So people better move, or they’re going to get swept out to sea.”
A proposed bill on gun control, which reached the Vermont Statehouse just one day before the rally in Montpelier, is now trying to change that. The bill calls for a ban on bump stocks and high capacity magazines. It also calls for federal background checks in private sales and raises the minimum age for gun purchase from 18 to 21. Its various amendments prompted 10 hours of debate on the house floor on March 23, but it ultimately passed. Should this bill meet final approval on Tuesday, March 27, Vermont will be one of the first states to see major gun reform since the shooting in Florida.
Meghan Neely is a freelance writer and undergrad student at Champlain College. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing and hopes to work as a full-time reporter in the future. More of her work can be found at www.meghancneely.com.