Editor’s note: This is part of TNR’s Letters to Legislators Series.
An open letter to the Vermont Legislature:
There are thousands of Vermonters, and millions more across this country, that are just like me. We are a diverse group, mostly rural, but come from all walks of life, and we are dying the death of a thousand cuts. Vermont legislators don’t understand us, even as they say they represent us. For years now, bill after bill is introduced and passed that erode our rights, restrict our freedoms, oppress our values and dismiss our heritage. Both economically and ideologically, we don’t matter to a ruling class that doesn’t have a clue who we are.
Many of us spend more days than not with dirt or grease-stained fingernails. We, or perhaps our parents or grandparents, grew up on beans and potatoes because they were cheap and filling, not because they are a trendy side dish for the rural come-lately. We wear wool because it keeps us warm outdoors, even when we work hard enough to sweat in the winter. Often, we are persons of faith. It’s not that we are poor, or uneducated; to the contrary, our lives have been rich with family, friends, culture and a limitless comfort with our surroundings regardless of where we happen to be. The natural world around us is as much our home as the walls and roof that define our houses.
We grew up in the woods, fields, the mountains and the brooks. Our tools can often be dangerous if handled incorrectly, whether it be a scythe, a chainsaw, a tractor or a firearm. We learned from a very young age to take care of our tools and handle them with respect. A rifle by the barn door, a pistol under the mattress, or a shotgun on the wall are as routine and innocuous to us as a bag of golf clubs in the closet is to anyone else. We grew up with guns and they are as much a part of us as the noses on our faces. I can understand that our legislators don’t get it — guns were never a part of their lives, and the cumulative experience of many, when it comes to firearms, is what they get from the evening news. What I don’t understand is the refusal to acknowledge that our traditions, heritage and our lives deserve the same respect, understanding and accommodations as anyone else’s. We are asked to do the same with every person we encounter regardless of race, religion, color or sexual identity. Tolerance is a two-way street.
They argue that we should be willing to put up with minor inconveniences. The magazine ban and waiting period are two that come to mind. We live in a republic, a representative democracy, and compromise is a necessary part of governance. However, our freedoms and the right to defend our families are not subject to compromise. We can, and must, compromise for the greater good on policy issues, but we must never think that any right or freedom can be subjugated away without endangering all of our rights. If we compromise our right to keep and bear arms, how far behind is our freedom of speech?
The unintended consequences of both the mag ban and the waiting period are anything but minor, and much more than an inconvenience. The mag ban will undoubtedly end competitive shoots in Vermont. Some multi-day shoots bring thousands of dollars of revenue to small local businesses and the Vermont tax coffers. A waiting period will be the end of all gun shows in the state. Weekend competitive shoots and gun shows are as much a part of our lives as Sunday tee times and tennis matches are to others. Two more parts of our lives are gone — two more cuts toward our demise.
The legislative onslaught seems endless of late. One bill after another bludgeon our senses of who we are and what we stand for. You can’t legislate away every problem, nor should they even try. “Freedom and Unity” is the Vermont motto. Limiting one’s freedoms for the sake of another, even though well intentioned, is not right, nor does it foster unity. On the contrary, it widens the cultural gap that divides us and emphasizes the biases we harbor for one another.
The Vermont legislature can and must do better to represent all Vermonters.
Orange County Senate candidate 2018