I was proud of my state these last few weeks, as student activists made their voices heard, and our legislature listened: quickly passing a series of new measures to increase the safety of our gun culture. When we talk about guns in Vermont we often get into the same conversation about “here and away” or “the way things were.” Sometimes we enter the national dialogue and start talking about “rights.” These are all perfect frames to unpack and ask ourselves questions like “whose history?” and “whose rights”? What did the Abenaki think of those guns? Do we hear the stories of mothers whose sons and fathers shot themselves, or the thousands and thousand of women who have been threatened—“kept in line” by guns throughout Vermont history?
When we talk about rights, the question again becomes “whose rights?” Rights and values don’t stand alone, in isolation, from each other—they often compete, vie for attention, cancel each other out. The right to bear arms is one of these: it competes with many other people’s—often more marginalized people’s—right to safety. I think we all agree that we want to live in safe communities.
Appropriate regulations will not hinder hunting and food security. I wish there was more hunting in southern Vermont. I like how my neighbor’s target practice echoes through the marsh and makes my dog answer back, reminding me where I am. But in both of these cases, regulations—including smaller magazines, comprehensive background checks, required trainings, and even licensing—will only serve to make these activities safer.
We live in a community, in a country, that long ago appreciated that humans require some rules to keep people living in close proximity safe and secure. As with any issue, we must ask ourselves: who profits, and who is vulnerable? This issue is no different.