Should Guns be Banned from Bars?

Friday, nearly two years after voters in Burlington, Vermont, approved of proposed changes to the city charter that would set three new rules related to gun possession in the state's largest city, there was a renewed push to get those changes approved by the Vermont Legislature.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, has been urging Statehouse approval of the charter changes since they were first approved on Town Meeting Day in March of 2014. The rules would ban guns in establishments licensed to sell alcohol in the city, would mandate guns in Burlington be locked up when not in use, and would give police operating in Burlington the authority to seize weapons from suspected domestic abusers.

"Guns and alcohol don't mix particularly well," Weinberger told necn, describing one of the charter changes he wants to see made official in the Statehouse in Montpelier. "The Legislature not approving this charter change is getting in the way of our ability to keep the public, to keep our police officers, and to keep people working out in the public safe."

Last month, Zen Lounge in downtown Burlington was the scene of what police described as a very dangerous combination. Victor Anghelache, 31, was allegedly drunk, with a gun inside the club, and threatening to shoot people as bouncers were kicking him out, according to the Burlington Police Department.

Anghelache pled not guilty to an aggravated assault charge and was released on bond.

Some members of the Vermont Legislature, which must sign off on the proposed Burlington charter changes, have been hesitant to do so. Some have wondered if the idea runs counter to the U.S. Constitution, and others have said one community in the state should not have different rules than all the rest.

"If we're going to talk about it, it should be statewide," said Rep. Debbie Evans, D-Essex, referring to Burlington's proposal to ban guns in bars. "It would likely go to the courts [for legal challenges], too, so that's another question."

Burlington City Councilor Adam Roof, I-Ward 8, told necn he believes concerns over public safety are issues cities should be able to control in order to protect people within their communities.

"I think there's no place for firearms in those establishments in Burlington, Vermont," Roof said Friday of bars and nightclubs.

Roof, who said he used to work as a bartender and in other roles inside bars and busy night spots, noted he has witnessed guns and ammo inside bars in Burlington, and has found related paraphernalia that had been dropped on the floor of at least one Burlington establishment, and forgotten by the gun owner.

"I've found, on two occasions, a fully-loaded magazine. Fifteen rounds," Roof said. "If you're that intoxicated and leaving a magazine, you really shouldn't be having it on you. And I don't know anyone who carries a magazine without a firearm right next to it.

Roof was glad to hear that Friday, the state representatives serving Burlington re-introduced the city's charter change proposals, which will be considered first by the House Committee on Government Operations. The guns in bars question, the safe storage requirement, and the authority to seize guns from abuse suspects will each be considered as a separate bill, according to the bill filing system.

"This is for safety," said Rep. Joanna Cole, D-Burlington. "And these bills are narrower than they were the last time they were considered, which should mean they'll stand up better in the courts."

Evan Hughes, the vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, acknowledged that consuming alcohol and handling firearms do not mix, calling that a basic tenet of gun ownership.

However, Hughes objects to the notion of individual communities setting policies around gun ownership, arguing the definition of an establishment serving alcohol is a very broad one, and could include private events. Hughes also argues that Burlington's other proposed charter changes could create problems with the way state rules are enforced in other communities.

"It would create a patchwork of conflicting laws around Vermont," Hughes told necn. "There's a reason why there's a strong central government in the state of Vermont, it's so there's uniformity in the laws throughout the state."

The House panel is expected to start work on Burlington’s firearms questions this month. 

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