On Tuesday, February 10, The Senate Committees on Health & Welfare and Judiciary held a public hearing in the House Chamber at the Vermont State House. Members of the public interested in testifying regarding S.31, “An act relating to possession and transfer of firearms,” were invited to speak for two minutes. Those testifying included several members of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. They are (in the order they appeared): the Rev. David Hamilton, Margy Zabriskie, the Rev. Beth Ann Maier (who also read part of a statement from Bishop Ely), and the Rev. David Veale. This kind of public witness and open dialogue is of utmost importance for The Episcopal Church in Vermont and for our democracy. The entire hearing can be viewed on video, and individual testimony is transcribed below. A full statement on this subject from Bishop Ely has been featured in the Burlington Free Press. That statement with footnotes and a correction can be found here.
The Rev. David Hamilton
“I am the Reverend David Hamilton, I’m rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in South Burlington. Thank you for this opportunity to speak. As a pastor I am here today to give voice to the often subdued and silent members of our society who live in a daily atmosphere of threatened abuse and domestic violence. Percentages and charts which attempt to give substantiation to one side or the other on matters of gun violence really miss the point – that the death by gun of one person (one man, one woman, or one child), which could have been prevented by background checks is a tragedy of profound depth that rips the fabric of our society. Just one such death by gun — a gun in the wrong hands. How would we know that this firearm was in the wrong hands? We would not if we did not ask. And why would we not ask? Because we had no mechanism, no law in place that would require the background questions to be asked. These questions need to be asked. I urge your support of Senate Bill 31.”
“My name is Margy Zabriskie, and I’m from Burlington. I lived in Alaska for fifteen years, and understand the importance of guns for hunting and legitimate purposes, and I’m sure most of the men here (or some of the ladies) have had a lot of gun training, and certainly fall outside of the proposed law, Bill 31. But there are others, and I personally have experienced the destructive use of guns by irresponsible people. My first husband was shot and killed by a young man who had been in trouble with the law and was a danger to the community. The shockwaves of that murder impacted the whole community, and I can say I’m sure we’ve all experienced that today with some of the school killings. Fear gripped the town. The sudden loss of my husband, finding myself a widow with a five-month-old baby was devastating. The loss of her biological father was very difficult psychologically for my daughter as she grew up. The young man who did the killing was also damaged for life, because he was ostracized by the community. Easy access to guns by people prone to violence is damaging to the whole community. Closing loopholes in the federal legislation is a simple step to save lives. I urge you strongly to pass Bill 31. Thank you.”
The Rev. Beth Ann Maier
“Good evening, I’m Beth Ann Maier. I’m an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, and I have a letter from the Bishop of Vermont, which I will read in just a minute. But I’m also Doctor Beth Ann Maier, a pediatrician, having had a practice of thirty-five years here in central Vermont. And, in that time I can immediately think of twelve families who were disrupted by gun violence, usually from a gun that was bought to protect themselves and their home, and then used by a family member on themselves or on one another. I’ve also seen a lot of trauma among children related to the guns in the home being used as threatening instruments. But here is our statement from our bishop: While I regret I cannot be with you in person today, I write to remind you of my support for Senate Resolution S.31, as outlined in an email sent to legislators January 27. Since releasing this statement, I have received mostly supportive feedback from Vermont Episcopalians. I have also received some thoughtful responses from those who disagree with my support. What I have attempted to make clear to those who disagree, and what I want to emphasize here, is that this legislation as drafted by Senators Campbell, Baruth and Ayers is about gun safety, not “gun control.” This is a bill that seeks to ensure that all persons who purchase firearms in Vermont have undergone a criminal background check. This legislation is not about abridging our Second Amendment rights, or our rights to hunt and pursue sportsmanship, or protect ourselves. This is thoughtful, sensible, responsible legislation focused on one thing – appropriate background checks for firearm purchases in Vermont.” Beth Ann was not allowed time to read the complete letter. The letter, as submitted, continued: As Bishop of Vermont and as a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group of over 60 bishops of The Episcopal Church serving across the United States, I am committed to reducing the alarming levels of gun violence in our society and advocating policies and legislation that save lives. I believe we have a moral obligation as faith leaders to work together with legislators to alleviate suffering in our world by establishing policies that make our communities safer places. In The United States, guns kill more than 30,000 people per year, by far the highest rate of gun deaths in the industrialized world. As a Christian, I believe I am called to give voice to the innocent and to cry out for action, justice, and peace. I am pleased to support this effort, with its focus on safety and peace in our communities.
The Rev. David Veale
“Good evening. My name is Father David Veale and I live in the city of St. Albans. My faith and my vocation require that one of the things I care for most is the protection of life. For this reason, I often oppose things such as abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. And for the same reasons I oppose this bill in its entirety. Vermont does not have a gun problem. In fact, in part because up to 75% of Vermont households have firearms, and we have a strong tradition of storing, maintaining and using them responsibly, Vermont is the safest state in the nation. This proposed gun control legislation (now let’s not kid ourselves, as much as the other side tries to obfuscate the truth, this bill is a first step towards gun control) will do absolutely nothing to keep prohibited persons from obtaining firearms if they are determined to do so. What it will do at best is put an expensive and at times impractical burden on law-abiding Vermonters and gun dealers, and at worst make up-til-now law-abiding Vermonters into criminals for engaging in conduct that for over 200 years has been legal and has not contributed to crime. This bill also is clearly seen by its proponents as a first step to infringing on our rights and freedoms and introducing true gun control to Vermont. It has been demonstrated over and over that no gun control law ever reduced crime, since criminals don’t follow them. And areas with the strictest gun control often have the highest incidents of violent crime, as criminals prey on a populace not able to defend itself. If the long-term aims of Gun Sense Vermont and their out-of-state benefactors were ever to be realized, the inevitable result would not just be the loss of our liberty, but an increase in crime and violence and the loss of innocent life, which I cannot abide. Honorable senators, the laws we already have in Vermont work for Vermont. Please do not endanger the safety, lives and liberty of our fellow citizens by going down this path. Please defeat this misguided bill. Thank you.”