BRATTLEBORO — Vermont's gun laws are so weak, contended the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, that they lead to the illegal trade of firearms and put children at risk. In addition, the state's gun laws allow the sale of firearms between individuals without background checks leading to guns ending up in the hands of criminals, according to a press release from the New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence entitled "Vermont Lacks Common Sense Gun Laws."
In that report, Vermont was rated the worst state in the nation for its gun laws.
Out of a possible 100 points, said Carrie Whittenberg, spokeswoman for the coalition, Vermont received nine points. New Hampshire and Maine were close behind with 11 and 12 points respectively.
Connecticut and Massachusetts were ranked third best in the nation with 54 points and Rhode Island was ranked seventh with 47 points.
"I would like to see zero points," said Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, based in Westminster. "The report is pure rhetoric. What they're saying is because Vermont has lax gun laws we have crime in the street like nobody would believe (but) we're probably the safest state in the whole country."
Cutler admitted Vermont gun laws are very lax. But, he added, that's not a bad thing.
"That's the reason we are safe."
A spokesman for the Brady Campaign stated Vermont's laws need to be stricter.
"Vermont continues to make it too easy for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons," stated Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign, in a press release.
Vermont's gun laws also correspond to a high rate of suicide in Vermont, said Whittenberg.
"Vermont has the highest firearm suicide rate in New England," she said.
But, she admitted, that's not just because of lax gun laws. It's also because residents of rural areas don't always know how to get the help they might need or are afraid to ask.
"People can be reluctant to bring up the topic."
Men are most likely to use a gun than women, who tend to use pills, she said. Of those who use pills to attempt suicide, five out of 100 succeed. But with guns, 91 out of 100 succeed, she said.
"Access to firearms is definitely a factor in suicides."
Whittenberg also said because the northern New England states have liberal gun laws, many of them sold there end up in southern New England.
In Vermont there is no limit to the number of guns a person can buy from a licensed dealer, and those firearms can be sold without a background check, she said.
"You could stand on a street corner and anybody who came by you could sell them a gun," said Whittenberg.
That's just not true, said Cutler.
According to state and federal law, it is illegal for individuals to sell guns to somebody they don't know or doesn't live in the same state. Selling firearms across state lines can result in 10 years in federal prison, he said.
He said state officials in Massachusetts have claimed guns used in crimes in the Bay State are coming from New Hampshire and Vermont.
But, said Cutler, Serial numbers can be traced from manufacturer to dealer to private owners and those guns are not showing up in southern New England.
"The system works good."
The New England Coalition is not out to change laws or make them more restrictive, said Whittenberg. "Our main goal is to educate people."
Nor is the coalition against the ownership of guns, she said.
"Our goal is gun safety, keeping dangerous guns away from dangerous people."
The coalition is also concerned about the dangers firearms pose to children. Vermont, unlike other states, doesn't have a law that mandates guns need to be locked in homes with children, said Whittenberg. Just hiding them somewhere in the house is not good enough, she said.
"Don't think for a minute that your kids don't know where your guns are."
The best thing you can do for your kids is to educate them about how to handle firearms and what can happen if they are mishandled, said Cutler.
"Satisfy that curiosity in a safe manner."
The state's biggest gun show, in Barre, was held last weekend. Most people who intend to sell guns at gun shows, he said, are trying to sell them to licensed dealers and not to each other.
"It's like trading in a gun. Licensed dealers at gun shops and shows are required to perform background checks."
Vermont's scorecard results can be found at www.bradycampaign.org.
How points were awarded can also be found at the Web site.