Charter-change language adopted by the Burlington City Council and posted online as an official warning in advance of the March 4 vote on a proposal to allow police to seize weapons in situations of domestic violence cites the wrong state statute, 4601 instead of 4016. The city attorney says she believes the error will have no effect on the ‘legal validity’ of the charter change. / ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS
Free Press Staff Writer
The language in one of Burlington’s gun-related charter changes that will be voted on March 4 contains an error. City officials say, though, the mistake poses no problem to the measure’s validity.
According to charter-change language adopted by the City Council and posted online as an official warning in advance of the vote, the ballot item would allow a police officer investigating a case of alleged domestic abuse to confiscate “any firearm, ammunition, or deadly or dangerous weapon, as defined in 13 V.S.A. §4601, in the immediate control or possession of the person alleged to be the abuser.”
The problem? The state statute 13 V.S.A. §4601 contains no definition of a deadly weapon; it is a general rule that specifies that criminal cases “shall be tried in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court in the unit where an offense within the jurisdiction of such court is committed.”
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood acknowledged the error Wednesday when the Burlington Free Press brought it to her attention.
“This appears to be a transposition of the numbers in the statutory reference; the correct reference should have been to 13 VSA 4016, rather than 4601,” Blackwood wrote in an email. “You will see the definition of dangerous or deadly weapon there.
“This does not change the meaning or intent of the proposed charter change amendment, so I do not believe it affects the legal validity of the charter change,” Blackwood continued.
The ballot itself contains a shortened version of the charter change and does not include the error, she said in an interview. Blackwood said she intended to flag the error on the city website.
Mayor Miro Weinberger called the error “unfortunate.”
“Public employees are human, and this kind of transposition can happen,” Weinberger said in an interview. “I’m glad it’s been found, and I’m happy to hear from the city attorney … that all indications are that this is not a material error.”
Secretary of State Jim Condos said the 30-day warning period before the vote and the 20-day ballot production deadline already have passed.
“At this point, it’s not possible to correct the error,” Condos said. He said the language will have to be voted on “as-is.”
Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, who has been critical of the proposed charter changes, had little to say when asked about the mistake Wednesday.
“Perhaps in their haste to pass something, they didn’t do the legal research that should have been conducted,” Hughes said.
The charter-change proposal, along with two separate gun-related charter-change measures related to the safe storage of guns and prohibiting firearms in establishments with a liquor license, would have to be approved by Burlington voters on Town Meeting Day and then by the state Legislature to take effect.
The error does not appear in the language for the other two charter changes.