The official response to the Slate Ridge “training facility” in West Pawlet has been… well, take your pick. Pitiful? Sure. Laughably inadequate? Yep. Chickenshit? Call it like you see it.
State officials have been “monitoring” the situation for over a year, but didn’t actually say anything in public until VTDigger published its report last week. And now they’re stumbling all over themselves, offering justifications for a year-plus of inaction.
Meanwhile, the people of West Pawlet live in fear. As I wrote on Twitter, now they know how Kiah Morris feels.
Here’s the gist of it, as far as I’m concerned. The system has failed the people of West Pawlet just as it failed Morris. In saying so, I’m assuming that the purpose of having laws and enforcement agencies is to keep people safe, allowing them to live their lives in peace and security.
On the other side of the coin, constitutional rights do not extend to instilling fear in your neighbors. A community is a collection of free individuals — but there must be a sense of polity, of common purpose, of some level of respect for the well-being of your neighbors as well as yourself. The denizens of Slate Ridge are violating the social contract that binds us all together.
And if there’s no law that can be applied to this case, then maybe we need some new laws.
For starters, I’d suggest banning firearms ownership for those who have lost firearms permits or been accused of felony firearms offenses in other states. That would cover Slate Ridge owner Dennis Banyai, who has compiled a notable record of disruptive and threatening behavior.
The dishearteningly passive response by the state police, prosecutors, Attorney General TJ Donovan and the Scott administration is a case study in responsibility avoidance. The worst has been Scott, because he’s the top guy and because of his pallid blame-shifting at last Friday’s press conference.
“What would you suppose we should do?” he asked reporters, metaphorically washing his hands. Later, he asked them to find and report evidence of crimes committed at Slate Ridge. In other words, he asked reporters to do the job of responsible officials who are disinclined to do it themselves.
Talk about passing the buck.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said his agency has been aware of the Slate Ridge situation for over a year. He has held two briefings for lawmakers. The first was in August, approximately a year after first contact. The second occurred the day after the Digger report came out, so once again passive and reactive.
Let’s roll that back for a minute. They were aware of this potentially deadly situation through almost an entire legislative session, and did not involve lawmakers? Didn’t suggest that maybe we needed legislation to close a West Pawlet-sized loophole in our laws.
Maybe their inaction seems appropriate from their position of safety in Montpelier. The people of West Pawlet don’t have that luxury. I think they’d like to see a little more determination and creativity on the part of their leadership. I think that’s a fair and reasonable expectation. So far, the state has failed them.