A sit-in staged by 60 Democrats who called for stricter gun control laws lasted 25 hours in the House Chambers before it ended early Thursday afternoon.
Vermont's own U.S. Rep. Peter Welch was among the lawmakers who demanded votes on laws that aim to expand background checks for gun buyers and prevent terrorist suspects from buying firearms.
Leaders of the county's Democrat and Republican committees have different views around gun laws. But they, like Welch, said they support the right to bare arms and aligned with what Welch described as "responsible use of guns."
Welch cited the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., over two years ago, and more recently, 49 people at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub less than two weeks ago. There's an epidemic of mass shootings, he said. And apart from the 30 moments of silence lawmakers have observed since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Dec. 2012, "it's been business as usual."
"I've become completely frustrated with the fact that Congress is responding to all these mass tragedies with gestures of silence, and complete and utter inaction," Welch said in an interview with the Banner on Thursday. "It's our job to debate what policies we can impose to increase safety rather than diminish safety."
He said he is "a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," but that it must be balanced with public safety.
With only a few interruptions, Democrats took over the floor of the House of Representative Chambers in Washington, D.C. from about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday to about 1 p.m. on Thursday. They refused to leave until votes were taken on laws that would expand background checks and to block people on terrorist watch lists from purchasing weapons. Leading the sit-in was John Lewis of Georgia and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts. The protest was sparked by the recent tragedy in Orlando — 49 people were killed and 53 were wounded in the early morning of June 12 at the Pulse nightclub, popular among the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, queer or questioning, or LGBTQ, community.
In addition to Welch, both of Vermont's U.S. Senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and Independent Bernie Sanders took part; both issued statements this week in favor of stricter gun laws.
The protest drew criticism. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, in interviews and on Twitter said it was "nothing more than a publicity stunt" and "not a proud moment for democracy."
Carol Dupont, chairwoman for the Bennington County Republican Committee, compared the sit-in with the Occupy Wall Street movement and called it "very degrading."
"Not only do I not understand the Democratic side on this, but I think they obviously aren't ready to call anything terrorism," she said.
Dupont said she thinks Republicans feel very strongly about citizens having the ability to defend themselves. She noted it can take law enforcement time to reach the most rural parts of the county.
"The safety of having a gun is without a doubt," she said. "I don't know where [Welch] is coming from."
But Michael Keane, chairman for the Bennington County Democrats, said the representatives "followed in line with peaceful demonstration" and he categorized it as civil disobedience.
Keane said he was returning from a trip to Europe and that, in the airports, "it's hard to find a weapon on anyone with a police uniform."
"We need to decide what makes sense in modern society for our own safety and well-being," he said.
Dupont noted she's a member of gun clubs in Manchester and Shaftsbury. And Keane spoke of the state's rich hunting heritage and said that some guns can be considered works of art.
Welch said elected officials have the responsibility to act on issues like this. Or as some people say to him: "Congress has to do its job."
"For members of Congress to do a sit-in is an indication of how broken down the system is," he said. "The critics of this are those that use the norms to prevent the committee hearings, the floor debates or action on any gun measures."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979