Les Dimick, chief of the Vermont Capitol Police Department, generally tries to keep guns out of the Statehouse.
On Friday, however, Dimick’s five-man force will transform a small conference room in the first floor of the venerable building into a firearms academy.
"The idea is to give legislators a little firearms 101 so to speak," Dimick said Wednesday. "I think there truly are some of them who have never handled firearms."
A school-shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month has spawned a push here for stricter gun regulations. Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, lead sponsor of a bill that would, among other things, ban ammunition clips of more than 10 rounds, said that if lawmakers want to have an informed debate on the issues, they need to at least know what they’re talking about.
"People have been asking, what is an assault weapon? What is the difference between semi-automatic and bolt action? What is the difference between 10 rounds and 30 rounds?" Waite-Simpson said. "There are lot of people in this building who are not gun owners, and I felt the need to do a sort of Legislature show-and-tell so when we start talking about these things, we’re all on same page."
Waite-Simpson had to get sign-off for the event from Sergeant-at-Arms Francis Brook; the display will be in Room 10 following a 10:30 a.m. press conference on Waite-Simpson’s gun bill.
Brooks said he was willing to make an exception to the longstanding ban on firearms in the Statehouse, so long as the Capitol Police had control over the event.
"That alleviates any of my concerns of Joe Citizen bringing in his own arsenal," Brooks said.
Dimick said legislators will be able to look at, touch and even handle a variety of unloaded weapons.
"A lot of lawmakers are unaware of the different types of actions, be it semi-automatic, pump action, lever action, bolt action," Dimick said.
Dimick said he’ll also have on hand an array of magazines and clips for legislators to view.
"I don’t think they understand the difference between magazines and clips and things like that," he said.
A pro-gun rally that drew about 250 people to the steps of the Statehouse earlier this month showed the intensity of opposition to gun-control efforts coming in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. A decision by Sen. Philip Baruth to withdraw a proposed ban on assault weapons that sparked the Statehouse protest quelled the outrage, though perhaps only temporarily. The National Rifle Association sent an "action alert" earlier this week to its Vermont members urging them to lobby for the withdrawal of Waite-Simpson’s bill.
Her legislation – it has a dozen co-sponsors – would also close the "gun-show loophole," and codify in state law provisions already in federal statute. Federal provisions not currently in state law include prohibitions on gun ownership by: convicted felons; people dishonorably discharged from the military; people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves; and people against whom a judge has issued a "relief from abuse order" – a restraining order designed to protect victims of domestic violence.
A separate bill offered by Waite-Simpson calls for the construction of a public firing range in an unused state-owned building in Essex.
Dimick said he’s happy to have the police play whatever role they can in helping lawmakers better understand the subject of their looming debate. And he and his officers won’t have to look far to find guns suitable for Friday’s display.