Rutland Herald (Vt.), Jan. 6:

Vermont legislators, who have gathered this week to begin their 2016 session, should have been paying attention Tuesday as President Obama spoke out with passion and candor about the need for improved regulation of gun sales.

The Legislature has a long history of quiescence on guns, relying on timeworn, familiar excuses for its inactivity. Vermont is a rural state with a cherished hunting tradition. Vermont is a safe state with a minimal number of firearms deaths. Vermont cannot solve the firearms problem by itself. A federal solution is needed.

The nation is besieged by firearms. There are more than 33,000 gun deaths every year in the United States, including suicides and accidents. That amounts to 92 deaths a day. More than 11,000 of those deaths are the result of homicide.

We are familiar with the horror stories: the gang violence that ravages our cities, including the steady toll among innocent bystanders; the killings of domestic partners; the children who die accidentally; the mass murders committed by politically motivated or mentally ill people; the suicides facilitated by ready access to guns.

Against this continuing mass slaughter we weigh the sensitivities of the gun owner who likes to pack a firearm on his hip or the enthusiast who collects assault-style weapons because he enjoys firing them on weekends at a range. What delicate sensitivities these good citizens have that they quail at the thought of a background check.

How has our nation allowed itself to be so thoroughly intimidated by a small group of vocal advocates who place their prerogatives above the lives of tens of thousands of people? The Vermont Legislature and governor can count themselves among the intimidated.

Obama’s proposals include a change in regulations that would require people selling firearms, including those at gun shows and on the Internet, to follow the rules applying to gun dealers. That’s because they are dealing in guns. One study found that 40 percent of guns are acquired without a background check.

Are you a convicted felon, or are you guilty of domestic abuse? Sorry, your privileges will be abridged. That is a limit on the Second Amendment that would stand a constitutional test.

Obama noted the experience of two states with differing approaches to gun regulation. Connecticut expanded background checks, and homicides dropped dramatically. Missouri relaxed background checks, and homicides rose dramatically. Correlation is not causation, but the evidence is mounting that acquisition of firearms can be made more difficult for people who shouldn’t have them.

Obama also noted that polls suggest most Americans favor common-sense gun regulation. That would include hunters in Vermont who understand that gun ownership brings with it significant responsibility. It’s like the responsibility we have to operate cars and trucks with care, a responsibility enforced by the state through sensible regulation.

No one is coming for the guns of Vermont sportsmen or hobbyists. But putting hurdles in the way of would-be criminals or potential suicides would save thousands of lives.

It’s true that Vermont cannot solve the gun problem by itself; nor can it solve the climate problem by itself. But responsible lawmakers know we can play a constructive role, leading the way, helping on our own terrain to improve the world by standing up to the special interests that profit from destruction.

Obama has waded into the cultural war around guns, promising to beef up enforcement of the laws by adding new agents to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The paranoid fringe that hates the federal government will whine, but it’s time to stand up for those thousands of victims who have fallen before the torrent of gunfire raining down around the nation. Who in the Vermont Legislature will show the kind of courage Obama has exhibited on this issue?

It will be said he has nothing to lose because he has only a year left to serve. But the nation has a lot to lose – is losing 90 lives a day – as a consequence of the excuses and inaction that have created a culture of fear in this nation.