There can’t be two states in these United States more different than Vermont and Texas, right? The Green Mountain State is quintessential New England, with picturesque town squares, maple sap running from the trees and let’s not forget America’s only Socialist, aka Senator Bernie Sanders, who just might try to run for President in 2016. And what can we say about the Lone Star State? Remember the Alamo, the best doggone chili and barbeque this side of the Pecos and the Rio Grande, and a former Governor named Rick Perry who might also try to run (again) for President in 2016.
But despite the clear contrasts between these two states, in one way they are very similar, and the similarity was on display last week when the two State Legislatures held public hearings on new laws about guns. In the case of Vermont, the bills being considered would have tightened gun regulations, bringing in background checks on private sales and setting standards for taking guns away from people at risk to others or themselves; in the case of Texas the bills will allow open carry of handguns and end the long-standing practice of considering college campuses to be gun-free zones.
Two different states, two different types of gun bills, but one thing in common, namely, the degree to which the pro-gun community was organized, turned out in force and made arguments which, rightly or wrongly, shaped the public debate. In Texas the push for open carry was led by an organization called Open Carry Texas which gained notoriety last year when its members publicly disavowed the NRA after the latter organization denounced gun-owning ‘extremists’ who were parading around with their guns. Last week in the run-up to the legislative hearings on the new laws, a group of open carry agitators not only openly threatened a gun-owning state legislator in his office, but also showed up at the hearing and loudly denounced anyone who would commit ‘treason’ by not voting the right way.
In Vermont, the debate over a gun bill occasioned the largest turnout at the State House since the debate over civil unions in 2000, and while supporters of the legislation cited personal anecdotes about a family shooting or the psychological damage caused by schoolchildren having to undergo active-shooter training, the prevailing sentiment during the debate was summed up by one female gun enthusiast who said, “If I’m being assaulted on a city street, I’d rather have my .38 with me than a copy of Senate bill 31.” Much of the credit for packing the gallery with orange-shirted gun owners should be given to Gun Owners of Vermont, which says it’s committed to a “no-compromise position against gun control” which is ironic since Vermont has no state-level restrictions on gun ownership or CCW at all.
This is not to say that folks who took a dim view of the proposed gun bills didn’t show up. There’s a group in Vermont known as Gun Sense Vermont, whose members appeared at the hearing and voiced their concerns. In Texas, the open carry gang got a little taste of their own tactics when a bodyguard hired by Moms Demand Action allegedly tried to stop Open Carry’s C.J. Grisholm, from filming an interview with a Moms activist by grabbing his phone. This brief incident occasioned all kinds of heated rhetoric on right-wing blogs about how the Moms group (behind which, of course, is the sinister Watts-Bloomberg combine) has no respect for the 1st Amendment, never mind the beloved 2nd.
I don’t know who is going to win the legislative contest over gun laws in either state, but the pro-gun forces clearly won and continue to win the argument in the public, and certainly the internet space. The plain truth is that fear-mongering sells, while reasonable and earnest debate gets little or no airtime at all. For that reason, the gun-sense community may need to re-think the manner in which they present their point of view. In the public argument about guns, opinions seem to trump the facts every time.
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