Vermont legislators push for more gun restrictions

Published: 1/16/2020 9:49:12 PM
Modified: 1/16/2020 9:48:19 PM

MONTPELIER — The brother of a woman allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend gave his support to legislation that would prevent people accused of domestic abuse from possessing or obtaining firearms.

“I’m not here today to save my sister. But I know there are other people out there that can be saved by this,” Adolphe Lumumba, the brother of Anako Lumumba, told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Anako Lumumba was shot and killed in South Burlington, Vt., on May 3, 2018. Her ex-boyfriend, Leroy Headley, who has been at large since that day, has a warrant out for his arrest on a charge of murder.

The legislation, HB 610, would prevent alleged domestic abusers from purchasing or keeping guns if a court has issued a relief from abuse order against them.

Those orders are issued by courts against those suspected of domestic abuse and can include requirements that prevent the alleged abusers from going near or contacting victims.

But relief from abuse orders, which are issued through family courts, do not require alleged abusers to relinquish their weapons.

Headley allegedly was making death threats and was in possession of a firearm in the months leading up to Anaoko Lumumba’s murder.

In December 2017, a court issued a temporary relief order against Headley, but he refused to give up his weapons. And once the order was up, police stopped efforts to seize his guns.

Adolphe Lumumba told the committee that policymakers should make it easier for police to take weapons away from domestic abusers.

“They knew he was a bad guy, but they didn’t have enough to take the guns away from him,” Adolphe Lumumba said.

“It might be too late for us, but it’s not too late for other families out there,” he said.

Lawmakers proposed an initial version of the legislation requiring firearms to be removed from an accused domestic abuser weeks after Lumumba’s death.

Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the legislation, said that under the current system, many victims of domestic violence are afraid to seek relief from abuse orders because they know their former partners have weapons.

“The problem is that many survivors of domestic violence are scared to seek those orders, and scared to engage law enforcement, especially because there are firearms, and they know that the firearms are there, or could be accessed,” she said. “This changes that by decreasing the ability to have access to firearms.”

South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke said Wednesday he supports the legislation.

Burke said the bill should require that police conduct an investigation before a court can order law enforcement officers to take weapons away from those accused of domestic violence. The current legislation would allow victims to submit their own evidence seeking the court to remove the firearms rather than police.

“I do think that we need the opportunity in real time, to then investigate fully that the weapons are exactly where they say they are, affirm that and then say to the court ‘Yes we need a search warrant,’ ” Burke said in an interview after the hearing. “I think that there needs to be an objective investigation before a warrant’s issued.”

Chief Superior Court Judge Brian Grearson also said that law enforcement should be involved in helping victims obtain search warrants.

“The important thing is that you should have a trained person, a police officer, to obtain the warrant and present that to a trained state’s attorney,” he told the judiciary committee. “I don’t know why we would want to overlook that process for a civil warrant.”

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would consider the House’s legislation if it was sent to the Senate.

But Sears said he was concerned that it could result in some people who haven’t committed crimes losing access to firearms.

“I support people that commit domestic violence not having firearms. I support people that murder people not having firearms. But I’m really concerned when we get to lesser proof that there has been a crime,” Sears said. “I don’t want to see somebody lose their weapons that hasn’t done anything.”

The legislation proposed by House would also include a provision to close the Charleston loophole, a provision that Democrats in the House and Senate and Gov. Phil Scott have signaled they can support.

That loophole allows gun purchasers to receive certain weapons before their federal background checks are completed. The loophole was what allowed the gunman in the deadly 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C., to obtain a firearm before he ultimately failed a background check.

Senate lawmakers will propose additional gun control measures this year, including legislation to establish a waiting period for gun purchases. Last year, Scott vetoed a bill that would have created a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.

Senators are proposing a 48-hour waiting period for all gun purchases this year. Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, is also proposing a bill that would ban semi-automatic weapons in some public spaces.

On Thursday, some senators and advocates held a news conference to support the measures.

“We are all here today to create a safer Vermont, one where hunting and sport shooting are valued but not over public safety for the state at large,” said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Progressive and Democrat from Chittenden County. “Too many Vermonters are killed with guns in suicides and homicide; too many domestic partners are controlled or killed with firearms.”

Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, opposes the waiting period legislation and the way it’s written because he said it could hamper self-defense.

“If a person has to wait to defend himself, it could be an animal, it could be a victim of domestic abuse, anything along those lines, they should be able to defend themselves,” he said.

Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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