Vermont's Right Not to Bear Arms

Article excerpt

Vermonters have long stood behind their right to bear arms, boasting some of the highest rates of gun ownership and the least restrictive gun laws in the country. Currently the only state that allows its citizens to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, it may soon be the first to require a permit for the unarmed in its ranks. In what could be the most extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment's tricky syntax yet, a Vermont state legislator recently introduced a bill requiring all unarmed Vermont citizens to pay $500 for the privilege of not owning a gun.

Under the bill, adults who choose not to own a weapon would be required to register their name, address, Social Security number, and driver's license number with the state. Those of military age, with the exception of police and members of the armed forces, would be required to pay the $500 fine. Representative Fred Maslack proposed the bill not to encourage Vermonters to protect themselves against crime (Vermont's crime rate is very low), but to demand that citizens do their part in defense of liberty. According to Maslack, "There is a legitimate government interest in knowing who is prepared to defend the state should they be asked to do so."

But defend the state against what? Vermonters, Maslack told me, have a constitutional obligation to respond to "any situation that might arise." Federal tyranny? Yup. Abuse of power by other states? Sure. "There could be a natural disaster that would send thousands of people into the state." Maslack's implication seems to be that in the event of such an influx, Vermonters ought to be able to shoot anyone coming over the border on sight. Good thing New Hampshire's tsunami season is short.

It's true that the Vermont constitution states explicitly that "the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State" and that those persons "conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms" shall be required to "pay such equivalent. …