By John Klar
A new Vermont bill seeks to ban so-called paramilitary training camps.
Vermont’s 2022 elections secured a stronger-than-ever progressive supermajority in the state Legislature, and the one-party Progressives are wasting no time pushing their agenda.
The proposed bill implicates more than just gun rights; it squarely attacks the First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.
S.3, “an act relating to banning paramilitary training camps,” targets the rights of citizens with shared interests to join together for legal militia training, an activity that by definition necessitates group gatherings. The statute’s wording attacks freedom of expression by targeting specific categories of “instruction.” The bill would exempt police and formal military training by government, as well as “an active shooter drill conducted by a Vermont school district” (which has been proven to cause trauma to young children).
Sponsored by English teacher and fiction writer Sen. Phil Baruth, the effort reflects the usual progressive disdain for basic constitutional guarantees. A previous effort in Vermont sought to close the supposed “Charleston loophole” by imposing a 30-day waiting period on gun purchases, followed by denial of purchase as default, with no right of appeal (aka “Due Process”).
S.3 is similarly deaf as to basic state and federal legal protections and sounds as if it was written by a fiction novelist who skipped researching the legal parameters of his subject. It calls for up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for any person who owns or operates “a paramilitary training camp or facility“:
As used in this section: (1) “Paramilitary training” means instruction: (A) that is designed to prepare a person for combat through the simulation of military training and tactics; (B) that involves staged or simulated attacks on buildings, vehicles, or persons; or (C) in the use of explosives[.]
Government here is seeking to regulate specific knowledge, central to the rights of free speech and to freely assemble. It is also unconstitutionally vague: will police arrest a gun club or shooting range owner who talks about coordinated gunfire, or who uses an old junk car for target practice? Is the teaching of gun use for hunting in groups permitted, but not for mutual self-defense?
Vermont’s Constitution (Chapter 1, Article 16) provides “[t]hat the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State[.]” Article 20 states “[t]hat the people have a right to assemble together to consult for their common good[.]” Baruth’s effort attacks both provisions simultaneously. When the government comes for one’s rights, it is a sign that one must heel in government — or at least rogue legislators like Baruth.
In Thomas v. Collins, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was a prior restraint on both speech and assembly for Texas to restrict a speaker’s rights, stating:
[A]ny attempt to restrict those liberties must be justified by clear public interest, threatened not doubtfully or remotely, but by clear and present danger. … [W]hatever occasion would restrain orderly discussion and persuasion, at appropriate time and place, must have clear support in public danger, actual or impending. Only the gravest abuses, endangering paramount interests, give occasion for permissible limitation. It is therefore in our tradition to allow the widest room for discussion, the narrowest range for its restriction, particularly when this right is exercised in conjunction with peaceable assembly.
The Supreme Court also struck down efforts to enjoin KKK members from meeting. On what legal basis, then, does Baruth propose to stop peaceable Vermonters from meeting to learn how to defend themselves as a group from potential future enemies, foreign and domestic?
The right to assemble even for controversial topics has long been preserved in America:
Albert Wright’s 1883 Exposition of the Constitution of the United States observed that under the right of assembly, “any number of people may come together in any sort of societies, religious, social or political, or even in treasonous conspiracies[.]”
Much like the effort to sensationalize semi-automatic rifles as “assault weapons,” Vermont’s statute percolates fearful left-wing alarmism over ill defined “paramilitary training” that is completely protected under longstanding constitutional law.
When drafting fiction, Senator Baruth should stick to his pulp novels.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. This commentary originally appeared at American Thinker.