NRA A-rated state senator backs gun control, accepts Gun Sense money

CASHED IT: NRA-endorsed state Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, said she accepted money from Gun Sense Vermont because she supports the group’s push for background checks.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

A Vermont state senator who received three A ratings from the NRA said she accepted money from Gun Sense Vermont because she supports the group’s gun-control positions.

“Yes, I did take their contribution because I do basically support their position,” state Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, told Vermont Watchdog.

“What I told them is that I do support some level of background checks.”

White, a six-term senator, is running against fellow Democrats Rebecca Balint and Roger Allbee in the November election. She faces no Republican challengers.

Last week, Gun Sense Vermont, a well-funded gun-control group seeking universal background check legislation, filed its campaign finance disclosure form with the secretary of state. The group contributed to 91 candidates, some of whom have A ratings from the NRA. White received a campaign contribution of $500 — one of the largest gifts.

A-rated lawmakers who received $300 checks included Sens. Claire Ayer, D-Addision; Bill Doyle, R-Washington; and Christopher Bray, D-Addision. Top-rated lawmakers receiving $100 checks included Reps. Linda Martin, D-Wolcott; Mark Woodward, D-Johnson; and John Moran, D-Wardsboro. Moran told Vermont Watchdog he refused the money.

Daren Goens, NRA-ILA state liaison for Vermont, did not know about White’s support for background checks and Gun Sense. But he did say many of the A-rated lawmakers who received donations were surprised by the contributions and do not support the group.

“Up to this point, there’s not one single legislator who we’ve ranked as an A who has voted for gun control,” Goens told Vermont Watchdog.

According to Goens, the NRA offers rankings every election year in the fall. Lawmakers receive A through F grades based on their gun-related votes from prior sessions. The ranking also takes into account public statements and actions, including lawmaker responses to questionnaires.

When Watchdog asked White if the NRA knew of her support for Gun Sense and background checks, she replied, “They’ve never asked me.”

“I didn’t ask them for their endorsement, but they gave it to me. I don’t know if they’ll give it to me in the general election again because of my affiliation with Gun Sense,” she said.

White said she has received three A rankings for her work on hunters’ rights, youth hunter days and zoning around firing ranges. She does not respond to questionnaires.

Gun Sense announced in May that it would lobby for background checks as a way to address gun crime. The group’s campaign is highly controversial, because Vermont has almost no gun crime. In addition, Vermonters enjoy a state constitutional right to bear arms.

GUN CRIME RARE: Rutland City Police Chief James Baker said few crimes are committed with firearms in Rutland.

Critics of Gun Sense point out that background checks already exist at the federal level. In addition, they say Vermont’s stellar gun safety record is proof background checks are a solution in search of a problem.

James Baker, chief of police for Rutland City and a former state police colonel, lent support for such views.

“We don’t see a lot of issues here with firearms. Very few of our crimes are committed with firearms in Rutland City,” he said.

Asked if Gun Sense Vermont sought his support for its gun control initiative, Baker replied, “A bunch of folks have reached out. From where I sit as the police chief of Rutland, we just don’t have that level of crime with firearms here for me to weigh-in to those issues.”

Although White admitted Vermont had low gun crime, she nevertheless claimed background checks could keep guns out of criminals’ hands and prevent guns from going to other states in return for drugs.

White did not offer details because she had not yet seen any legislative proposals.

“The devil is in the details. In general, I think background checks are necessary. How you register them, and when you do, I don’t know the details,” she said.

“The goal is to have sensible gun laws. That’s why they named it Gun Sense. And I support their positions in having sensible gun laws.”

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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