Gun control protest and counterprotest echo across UVM campus

Students hold a speak-out in front of the University of Vermont library in response to an anti-gun control event across campus at Ira Allen Chapel. Photo by Cory Dawson/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — The gathering at the University of Vermont’s Ira Allen Chapel, to talk about the state of gun rights in Vermont in light of recent developments in the state Legislature, attracted about 100 students and other interested persons.

It spawned another gathering across campus, at the UVM Bailey/Howe Library. An hour before the pro-gun event, a group of about 25 students held an impromptu “speak-out” in front of the library. The plan was to march on the chapel and hold a vigil for victims of gun violence.

“It’s a little disgusting to me that in the wake of yet another massacre of schoolchildren, and with the gun violence that happens around the country and in Vermont everyday, that a group UVM students want to bring this extremist perspective on guns, that guns don’t cause any violence, and rather guns are a solution to violence. That’s not how I would honor their memory,” said Alec Collins, 21, the lead organizer of the counterprotest outside the library.

The event at the chapel, hosted by two organizations, Turning Point USA and Young Americans for Liberty, was billed as a forum for discussion of recent gun control legislation passed in Montpelier, including S.221, the “Extreme Risk” bill that won unanimous approval by the state Senate on March 1.

The bill would allow law enforcement to take weapons from gun holders in situations of imminent threat. The House Judiciary Committee voted on March 2 to take more time on the bill.

The committee’s decision was criticized by senators of both parties and by the governor, who had hoped for unanimous and bipartisan support of a gun violence bill.

Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, called the bill — as changed by the House — a violation of Fourth Amendment guarantees against unnecessary search and seizure, but most of the speakers at the chapel event focused less on legislation and more on philosophical gun rights arguments.

Vermont Traditions Coalition Chair Bill Moore told the story of Matthew Lyons, a Vermont senator re-elected from prison where he’d been sent for speaking out against John Adams in the early 1800s, the time of the Sedition Acts. Moore argued that the First and Second amendments are connected, in that both allow citizens to protect themselves.

Gun Owners of Vermont Vice President Bob DePino accused the mainstream media of misreporting gun rights issues, and further suggested that coverage of recent mass shootings has served to inspire so-called copycat killings.

Outside the library, Collins said he was happy to witness the work of the Vermont Senate. Collins noted that he is a graduate of Champlain Valley Union High School, which has had its own recent school shooting threat.

Brigette Riordan, 21, a student from Las Vegas, said the scariest moment of her life was learning of the mass shooting in her own city, that left 58 dead and 851 injured at a country music concert.

What mattered afterward, she said was “seeing how many people showed up to the blood banks the following days, and how many people came together, and how this city that I had come from, that felt so fragmented to me as a community, was able to come together and be strong. And that’s the kind of coming together that we need. It’s not lobbying, it’s not showing up and fighting for our guns, it’s about showing up and supporting each other.”

After the speak-out, the counterprotesters walked to the chapel where they had planned to hold an outdoor candlelight vigil, organizer Scarlett Moore said. The weather did not allow for candles, but they stood outside the chapel anyway, with signs that said “enough is enough.”

Moore said the students who had organized the pro-gun event had approached them with miniature copies of the U.S. Constitution.

“They were very respectful of our presence but they were a bit patronizing,” she said.

She would still talk with them, though, she said. “We have common interests and common ground with those people in the room, too,” she said.

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