LEGISLATURE: Guns on school grounds

Area lawmakers set to introduce ban on weapons

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By ABBY LEDOUX Messenger Correspondent

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You can’t leave a gun full of bullets in your car and then expect to use it hunting after school.

- Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia

ST. ALBANS — Some members of the Vermont Legislature are seeking change to the state law regarding guns on school property. With support from local officials, members of the Franklin County delegation have drafted a bill that would ban firearms and deadly weapons from all school property.

The effort locally follows a Sept. 30, 2013 incident on a Franklin County school campus where weapons of all kinds were found in a student’s car.

Currently, Section 4004 of Title 13 makes it a crime to possess a firearm or deadly weapon within a school building, on a school bus, or with intent to cause harm. Without explicit reference, the criminal statute excludes from its coverage the possession of firearms in other places on school property, such as in cars.

“I believe that was an oversight,” said Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia. Branagan, president of the Franklin County delegation, drafted the bill with fellow delegation members Rep. Kathy Keenan, Rep. Mike McCarthy, and Rep. Cindy Weed to add the words “on school property” to the existing statute.

“That will add the football field, the parking lot, the playground, anywhere there’s land that the school owns,” said Branagan.

Branagan and local officials agreed that the catalyst for the bill’s creation was an incident in October of last year that occurred on the campus of Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans when a 17-year-old MVU student was found to have guns, knives, and ammunition in his car. The student brought the car to BFA’s Northwest Technical Center to be worked on by other students. It was then that the weapons were discovered. The state’s attorney determined the student had no intentions of harming others and therefore did not violate the law. No charges were brought against him on the state level.

“This really startled me, especially in light of the tragedies in schools we’ve seen in recent years,” said BFA Principal Chris Mosca. “I was stunned to learn that there were no charges necessarily in the state law, since the weapons on the premises weren’t on a bus or in the building.”

“I think this incident really got all of our attention, by virtue of the number of the weapons that were in the vehicle,” added St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor. “I’m just looking at the report going, really? Do you really need to go hunting with stun guns and a machete and shot guns, rifles, handguns? Do you really need to do that?”

“This distinction [in the current law] is clearly in place to address students who have mistakenly left their hunting rifle in their gun rack after hunting,” said Julie Regimbal, Franklin Central Supervisory Union interim superintendent.

As officials mentioned, much of the discussion surrounding firearms in Vermont is framed around the prevalence of hunting. Branagan relayed a conversation she had with her brother about the proposed bill during which he recalled hunting squirrels with his friends on the way to and from school.

“In their opinion, it was great sport,” she said. “But times are different now. You can’t do that. You can’t leave a gun full of bullets in your car and then expect to use it hunting after school.”

Branagan and Taylor have no qualms about students hunting, but share the belief that firearms shouldn’t be kept at school in the mean time.

“If they’ve got their parents’ blessing, then let them go home and get their gun when they get out of school,” Taylor said. “Even if you have to make a trip home, that makes more sense to me.”

“My personal opinion is that there is no time ever when guns belong in schools outside the current policy,” said Branagan, citing those explicit exceptions as school law enforcement and safety resource officers, hunter safety classes, and some 4-H classes. “Those occasions are all already covered and allowed in policy statewide.”

Mosca raised another point of consideration regarding the general nature of teenagers.

“My concern primarily is access,” he said. “Teens are impulsive sometimes, and there’s confrontation…a myriad things could happen if there is the temptation of having a weapon in close proximity.”

Taylor mirrored this sentiment. “It’s my opinion that particularly high school age individuals are highly volatile. Sometimes I think they do things without thinking a lot,” he said. “So what happens to the kid who has a weapon in his vehicle and somebody does something to offend him … and he feels that the only way he can stand up to that individual is by going to his vehicle and getting that?”

Above all, legislators and officials both hope to prevent that situation from coming to fruition in Vermont schools.

“To me, it’s a common sense approach,” said Mosca, referring to the bill. “I think it’s a very prudent measure. I think it’s very sound, I don’t think it’s an infringement. I think people need to think twice when they enter a school zone.”

Branagan knows not everyone will feel this way. “I realize this is going to be somewhat controversial,” she said, “but we live in different times than we did 40 years ago when I was in school.”

Taylor spoke about the issue with other police chiefs in the state and found that while some shared his view, others did not.

“I did hear from three different chiefs from rural areas who said, ‘not an issue. Don’t see any reason to change anything, kids hunt in my area, they bring guns to school, never had a problem,’” he said.

Representing Georgia, which she says is still a relatively rural area, Branagan cites the popularity of hunting within her own district. Even so, when it comes to the issue of school safety, she says her constituents are generally supportive of this venture. After speaking about the issue with National Guard members, hunters, and gun owners, Branagan said, “They all seem to understand.”

Now, Branagan and other legislators are working on the bill in response to concerns from both officials and constituents.

“In the Town of Georgia, I’ve had very positive responses, especially from parents,” she said.

“I’ve had those phone calls, I’ve had those e-mails,” said Taylor. “I heard from a pretty wide audience about [if] we really need to have guns on school grounds.”

“My hope is to ensure the safety of students,” said Mosca. “I think the vast majority, if not every student, wants a safe environment. They don’t want to face harm.”

Regimbal, who serves three school districts, echoed Mosca’s concern. “Given the incidents of school gun violence in this country, I support changing this law,” she said.

Law enforcement, education, and legislative officials expressed a shared goal of reducing risk when it comes to guns on school grounds.

“We are all trying hard to be vigilant,” said Taylor. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best. We really put a lot of effort into thinking about ‘what if?’”

“And who knows?” he continued. “Maybe nothing ever happens. But shame on us if we allow the circumstances to be developed where an event could occur.”

The Franklin County delegation firearms bill has been drafted and is being circulated for signatures in the Legislature. Branagan expects it to be filed soon.

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The Messenger report regarding the Sept. 30, 2013 weapons incident at the Northwest Technical Center is posted on the newspaper’s website (www.samessenger.com/public-safety-guns-found-inside-car-at-tech-center).

  • Bob DePino

    Interesting how you now print this gun control article instead of the editorial I submitted to your paper on 1/24/14. Here it is again.
    Dear Editor,

    I was just scanning the current bills in Montpelier and found, what I think, to be the most dangerous bill ever proposed in Vermont.

    Article 16 of Vermont’s Constitution, guarantees the people of Vermont the Right (not privilege) of defending themselves and others.

    Since 1791, Vermont has had a cherished Right most other citizens of this nation never had. We call it “Constitutional Carry”. Other states call it “Vermont Carry”.

    This means Vermonters can legally carry a weapon (including a firearm or knife) in their travels through the state on their daily business.

    Criminals have known about this for 2 centuries.

    This is one of the reasons Vermont is such a nice, peaceful, tranquil state. To quote author Robert Heinlein, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

    To this end, thousands of Vermonters routinely carry on a daily basis.

    Criminals know a large percentage of the Vermont population is neither scared, nor defenseless, but, which percentage? They are not about to test the waters.

    Life is good in Vermont, unless this bill passes.

    It appears Senator Don Collins thinks that ought to change.

    S.178 proposes to gut the ability for parents to keep themselves and their children safe.

    Every day parents drop their children off, or pick them up, from school, the same parents who, as mentioned above, exercise their Constitutional Right to protect themselves and loved ones. S.178 will make law-abiding citizens immediate felons, complete with jail sentences, fines, confiscation of ALL their firearms, and the loss of that same Constitutional Right, by simply dropping off their kid at school! As a side effect, this bill will prevent Vermonters from even leaving their homes while armed!

    I’d hate to imagine what will happen when the mentally ill, who desire to make themselves into the next main stream media rockstar “school shooter”, are offered no deterrent? NO ONE will be there to stop them, and they will KNOW that, as law-abiding citizens are, exactly that, law-abiding.

    Vermont law states that for there to be a crime, there has to be “intent”. The intent is very clear, to undermine the Second Amendment in Vermont, any way possible, and to create a new air of “fear” that this state has never had to endure.

    I urge Senator Collins to rethink his proposal, and withdraw his bill for the good of all Vermonters.

  • Bob DePino

    The bill also intentionally violates the Vermont Sportsmans Bill of Rights by restricting use of state lands for hunting.
    If anyone steps foot, drives through, or parks on public land owned by a school, that citizen will be prosecuted, thrown in jail, fined, and will have all firearms confiscated.
    It will do NOTHING to prevent criminals from slaughtering unarmed children and teachers.
    Vermonters need to think really hard about “feel-good” legislation that will actually endanger our children and destroy a two hundred year history of hunting and firearm ownership.

  • Brian Sullivan

    By her own words, Ms. Branigan is looking for a solution to a problem that does not exist. Why is she even wasting time on this? Chief Taylor is doing the same thing with his “maybes”.

    In regard to going home to get their guns, some kids go to school 35- 45 minutes from home. They hunt before school and again after. If any thought was given to this before considering this solution to nothing, the sponsors would realize that during the hunting seasons there is very little available daylight before and after school hours. If the kids were required to make that trip home, it would instantly take away from these great kids the opportunity to hunt on any school day. Would all those sponsors prefer to have those same kids parked in front of a TV or video game instead? I imagine that wasn’t the same 40 years ago, either.

    The real “common sense” here should be to stop being so paranoid about what “might” happen and realize that those same kids with guns in their cars are some of the finest kids Vermont produces. Once they enter those school grounds many are A & B students, play sports, get involved with their classes- maybe they even see a kid reaching for a TV remote or a joint and say “you should come out hunting with me instead”.

    This bill completely ignores the quality of our kids in favor of fear and paranoia. It fixes nothing, adds nothing to the quality of life and has no place in our laws.

    • Steven D. Pike

      If there is not a big backlash this will pass. Even liberals will pull back if they think they will lose the next election. Vermont has been a bedrock for gun rights, but that can change quickly.

  • Brian Sullivan

    To further demonstrate Ms. Branigan’;s lack of knowledge regarding firearms laws, her quote “You can’t leave a gun full of bullets in your car and then expect to use it hunting after school” is misleading. Carrying a loaded long arm in a car is already against the law here in Vermont.

    Maybe she should ask a student that hunts to educate her.

  • Steven D. Pike

    The bill appears to come from a perspective that guns are intrinsically bad and that regulating them is intrinsically good. Especially since there is law banning guns in school now. Looking at the current text, unless I missed something, it even bans most armed federal officers since only those certified by the state are permitted when on duty. Probably could look at that. The rest of the change is not needed.

  • Gerry Cormier

    If they want such a law, they must insert the term “with ill intent” to make it a crime. Else, only the bad guys will bring guns on school grounds, and they don’t care about any law…and no one can stop them if they decide to do so. Don’t these granola legislators realize that nothing will stop the person with ill intent. Enforcement of this law can only happen after an incident happens. What do we do, add a thousand dollar fine or 2 years to a life sentence?
    This law as written just strips away another constitutional right of law-abiding citizens and will have no effect on the criminal. Even with my suggestion of adding ill-intent, nothing and no one will stop the criminal from bringing a gun and killing others on campus, and all this law does is disarm the law-abiding, with the false reasoning and wishful thinking of protecting others.
    How does taking the weapon from a law-abiding citizen prevent a campus shooting? A ticked off teacher with a bad review is more likely than a student to go home, get a gun, and return to kill his supervisor. Heck, then the NEA would pay for his defense while insisting the school pay his salary. This is legislation in search of a problem. A better law as it relates to schools would be to require the education of students and teachers in the safe handling and responsibilities of firearm ownership. I think that would serve a better purpose than teaching them to slip a condom on a banana as part of their health curriculum.

  • Bob DePino

    All the gun control bills proposed in Montpelier are illegal.
    The representatives are ALL in violation of their oaths of office.



    § 16. Representatives’ oaths

    The Representatives having met, and chosen their Speaker and Clerk, shall each of them, before they proceed to business, take and subscribe, as well the oath or affirmation of allegiance hereinafter directed (except where they shall produce certificates of their having theretofore taken and subscribed the same) as the following oath or affirmation:

    You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that as a member of this Assembly, you will not propose, or assent to, any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to you injurious to the people, nor do nor consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this State; but will, in all things, conduct yourself as a faithful, honest Representative and guardian of the people, according to the best of your judgment and ability. (In case of an oath) So help you God. (Or in case of an affirmation) Under the pains and penalties of perjury.

  • Jeff

    “But times are different now. You can’t do that. You can’t leave a gun full of bullets in your car and then expect to use it hunting after school.” Really? What makes times so different that a responsible person can’t leave an UNLOADED gun in their car for hunting after school? You absolutely should be afforded the opportunity to partake in that activity as your brothers/sisters, cousins, fathers/mothers, aunts & uncles have been doing for eternity in this state without one single incident that has been problematic. I like Ms. Branagan, but she is way off base on this one and seems to be driven, not by reality, but some kind of public fear mongering. Chief Taylor is just along for the ride to further promote the emerging police state we’re becoming all too familiar with. Who am I to say what weapons any student would want or need in their car depending on the type of hunting they may choose to participate in; a handgun, rifle and a shotgun are all legitimate weapons. A stund gun or machete may simply be available for personal protection. We’ve been reading all about the drug and crime epidemic the police seem unable to control, so I may very well want all those weapons to protect myself from criminals. We may even need them to protect ourselves from the police as we read about the BPD gunning down an unarmed man with a shovel.