Vt. House committee approves handgun purchase wait period

Monday, May 13, 2019

MONTPELIER — A key House committee on Monday approved legislation that would establish a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, a firearms restriction Democrats have pushed for this year as a suicide prevention measure.

In a vote of 7-4, the House Judiciary Committee advanced SB 169, which after passing the Senate in March, had been stalled in the House for weeks.

The chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Waitsfield, called the bill “a compromise that benefits public health safety and also Second Amendment rights.”

“The waiting period from testimony we heard does go a long way to suicide prevention, to prevention of domestic violence related homicides, and to gun-related violence,” she said.

The bill moves to the House floor for a vote.

The proposal gained momentum early this year, after Alyssa and Rob Black, a couple from Essex, called on the Legislature to enact a gun purchase waiting period in the obituary they wrote for their son, Andrew. Andrew Black died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in December.

The Black family and gun control activists have said that requiring gun purchasers to wait at least 24 hours before obtaining their firearms introduces a “cooling off period” that can help guard against impulsive acts of violence.

But Republicans and gun rights supporters have opposed the measure and cast doubt on the argument that waiting periods lead to lower suicide rates.

All four Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted against the bill Monday. But some noted they were grateful SB 169’s restrictions didn’t go any farther.

Before it passed the Senate, lawmakers had considered making the waiting period longer and applying it to firearms other than handguns.

“I’m not thrilled about it, but it’s probably the best deal that firearms owners can get,” Rep. Thomas Burditt, R-Rutland, and the vice chair of the committee said of the bill on Monday.

Others have said that the measure places a hurdle in front of those who may need to obtain a firearm quickly for self-protection, such as victims of domestic violence.

“That S 169 contains no exemptions for domestic violence victims at the height of their crisis also speaks to the doubts some here in the room have about the restriction,” said Bill Moore, a firearm policy analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, a pro gun rights group, said.

Democrats have called the legislation a compromise because it includes a provision that would exempt participants in Vermont gun competitions — and those who travel to the state for the events — from a high-capacity magazine ban that went into effect last year.

Without the exemption, visitors traveling to Vermont for competitions would be breaking the law by transporting high-capacity magazines into and out of the state.