• Aiming to influence
    January 25,2013
    Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo

    Dominique LaFond, of East Barre, fires an AR-15 modern sporting rifle at the Barre Fish and Game Club on Thursday. For video from the event, go to www.timesargus.com.

    A sign on the shelter where our small group huddled stated that no .50-caliber weapons could be fired at the gun range. Apparently .50-caliber rifles are much louder than the sound I could feel in my chest as a man blasted away with a rifle. The gun club, said one member, wants to be considerate of the neighbors.

    This was the latest setting in the debate over gun rights: Two reporters, two photographers and four gun enthusiasts standing around in below-zero temperatures as bullets hit targets in front of sand berms.

    The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs invited the press to the Barre Fish and Game Club on Thursday to educate the public about semi-automatic weapons.

    The presentation was in response to a short-lived proposal by state Sen. Phil Baruth for a ban on semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as to discussion at the federal level of a similar ban.

    To start the presentation, the club gave a history lesson. On a table in the clubhouse were 10 rifles, a timeline of weapons used in warfare since the early 1900s, from the lever-action Winchester, like the cowboys use in Western movies, to the current black composite rifles.

    Club member Steven Rubalcaba described each gun, giving its historical significance and the reason it needed to be created.

    Rubalcaba said the biggest misconception in the gun control debate is the public’s perception of semiautomatic versus automatic guns. He said all “semiautomatic” means is that every time you pull the trigger, one shot is fired.

    It’s not like in the movies where Rambo pulls the trigger and sprays bullets everywhere. These weapons are not machine guns. You can buy machine guns, but the federation’s vice president, Evan Hughes, said they are heavily regulated and cost around $8,000 to $10,000 only after receiving a special federal permit.

    My impression of the well-intentioned history lesson was that it was to say, “Look at all the weapons a ‘semiautomatic weapons ban’ would make illegal.”

    Yet the bill Baruth proposed and soon dropped would have made it illegal to manufacture, possess or transfer a “semiautomatic assault weapon,” which the bill defined as a weapon with a detachable magazine and at least two features such as a folding or telescoping stock, bayonet attachment, pistol grip, etc.

    So Grandpa’s semiautomatic hunting rifle would have been safe from confiscation.

    Besides the history lesson, the federation emphasized a lesson in language: The “AR” in AR-15, the type of weapon used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that sparked the renewed debate, does not stand for “assault rifle” but for the company that made the gun, ArmaLite.

    Hughes said it’s a good thing Baruth’s proposal has been dropped, since it was too hasty a response.

    He wouldn’t discuss what kind of gun control he would support, saying he cannot talk about a bill that doesn’t exist. He did, however, have a comment on the gun control debate.

    “Everybody wants a fast, simple, cheap solution. The causes of crime are complex and varied.”

    To him, you can’t just slap something together and come up with a solution for a problem that is so complex.

    Some may characterize that response as foot-dragging, but Hughes said it will take time to get to the bottom of the issue. He’s also not going to jump to a separate set of conclusions pushed by gun lobbyists, such as that movies and video games desensitize the public to violence.

    “If you really want to come up with a solution, invest the time,” he said.

    Eric Blaisdell covers police, courts and crime for The Times Argus.

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