Last month I attended a gun rights rally at the state capitol held in response to S.32, proposed gun control legislation introduced by Senator Phil Baruth on January 15th. The rally was held just four days later, on Saturday the 19th, after a scramble to organize and promote the event. Even with this quick turnaround, the demonstration managed to draw a sizable crowd of around 250 people (which was initially reported as “more than 100 people” by many local media outlets). When I left that day, it felt good to have been present to support a cause that I believe in and I was happy to have given flyers to over fifty individuals interested in hearing more about the platform of liberty supported by the Libertarian Party, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed that the event hadn’t drawn greater attendance. Nonetheless, We the People were heard and Senator Baruth withdrew S.32 from consideration two days later.
This past weekend, Vermonters united once again to defend our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, this time in opposition of Vermont House bills H.124 and H.243. The previous week, gun control advocates held their own rally, which around 100-150 people attended (again, local news sources misrepresented these numbers, claiming an attendance of 300). My greatest fear was that gun rights supporters would have “better things to do” on a Saturday and not show up. However, knowing that this event had several weeks of planning leading up to it, I was cautiously optimistic that we might have a few more attendees this time around. If we reached 400-500 in attendance, I would consider it to be significant progress from the previous rally and an overall success. Apparently, I set the bar too low.
When I pulled up to the state house at 11:40, twenty minutes before the rally was set to kick off, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The crowd that gathered on the capitol steps was already approaching the numbers that had attended the S.32 rally, and there was still a steady procession of demonstrators arriving! By the time the rally began, the crowd had already reached my hopes of 400-500 present, and the arrivals still weren’t slowing down. During the peak of the rally, I looked down at the crowd from the top of the state house steps. The group that had gathered en masse was breathtaking. Counting people across the front row and along one side of the most crowded landing yielded a rough count of 722 in attendance (through simple multiplication) without even considering those gathered on the surrounding steps. I would venture to guess that there was somewhere between 850-1000 people present in total. A raffle that was held, for which a single ticket was allowed per attendee, received over 500 entries. Those running the raffle estimated that there were hundreds who did not manage to make their way to the entry table before the drawing, pushing the headcount even higher than the ticket pool.
Again, the Burlington Free Press and other local media would beg to differ, citing an AP estimate of “about 300 people” as having attended. To their credit, the BFP did participate in a productive online conversation about this discrepancy, asking those who attended for their estimates, and conceding in their final report that those in attendance estimated upwards of 500. Nonetheless, I find it to be a travesty that a Vermont news outlet like the Free Press couldn’t send a representative to the rally instead of counting on the nationally syndicated AP to provide coverage of a local event. Or, at the very least, when presented with irrefutable photo documentation of the demonstration, one would hope that the staff of an “independent” media outlet would be able to think for themselves and come up with a more accurate statistic to report. But, I digress.
What is more important than the biased media coverage that continues to plague the discussion of gun rights/control is the message that was sent on Saturday. A picture speaks a thousand words, so I won’t say much about comparing the numbers for the gun control and gun rights rallies this month. Just take a look for yourself. It would appear that Vermonters have clearly spoken as to how they feel about the issue.
Unlike the first 2nd Amendment rally in January, this rally felt like a well-oiled machine had been set into motion. Professional sound equipment and operation were provided by Blue Moon Entertainment, and allowed for the crowd to enjoy speeches from elected state officials, gun rights group organizers, and activists of varying backgrounds. There was not much love shown for Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin following his remarks on gun control made in Washington DC the previous night. In that interview, Shumlin catered his message to a national audience, voicing his support for universal background checks and limits on magazine capacities. This was in stark contrast to his previous remarks on the issue. In response, Representative Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester) called out the Governor, warning him not to “say things in Washington that [he] wouldn’t be willing to say here in Vermont”.
Perhaps (in my opinion) the most moving orator of the day was the liberty-minded Essex candidate for State Representative, Paul Dame. In his speech (see video below), Dame pointed to many fallacies in the logic behind seeking stricter gun control laws, specific flaws in the proposed legislation to be considered in Vermont, and the reality that Vermont (with the third lowest violent crime rate in the U.S.) has much more pressing issues to address than pursuing gun control initiatives. He also offered an alternative to the suggestion that the government should restrict the rights of law abiding citizens, which applies well beyond the conversation of gun rights:
“Stop restricting the people and go back to restricting the government for a change!”