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Column: Counting the days for a firearm waiting period



To the Valley News
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Day 137. As I write this it’s been 137 days since my 23-year-old son, Andrew Black, walked into a gun store, bought a handgun, drove home and within hours shot himself.

On day No. 3 we wrote an obituary, suggesting a way to honor Andrew would be for Vermonters to call their local representatives and ask for a brief waiting period for gun purchases. It is heartening to see that such a bill is moving forward at the Statehouse.

I’ve woken up every morning for 137 days and willed myself to get out of bed. I’ve gone to work. I’ve driven repeatedly to the Statehouse to meet with countless legislators and elected officials. I’ve told my son’s story to anyone willing to listen. I’ve gone to my mailbox each day only to find another card or letter from another family, from both near and far, sending their condolences and telling me about their son or brother or father and how Andrew’s story is just like their loved one’s story.

I’ve immersed myself in research and statistics. I used to think, “Vermont is so safe, we don’t have a gun problem.” In 2016 there were almost 1,200 serious suicide attempts in Vermont. The vast majority did not involve a gun and they failed; research shows that 90 percent of them will never attempt suicide again. Of the 118 suicide attempts that “succeeded,” more than half used a gun. Unsurprisingly, when a gun is used it is almost always fatal. There is no second chance.

I now understand the devastating link between firearm access and the impulsivity of suicide. Andrew had a crisis, the same kind of crisis many of us experience in our lives. Tragically, he impulsively chose the most lethal method to try to make his temporary crisis go away. He didn’t get a second chance.

Andrew Black is not the reason to pass a gun purchase waiting period bill. Andrew is just one story. He’s just the one story you may have heard; most others you never will. There are no statistics recorded on gun deaths and date of purchase. Much like Andrew’s investigation, they will be quietly noted, signed off by a state’s attorney and never seen again. The facts regarding Vermont’s alarming rate of suicide are the reason this important legislation should be passed.

Vermonters sent a strong message in November that they want common sense gun legislation. Research is clear that waiting periods will save lives. A waiting period may have saved Andrew’s life. It will not save everyone, but it may save another mother’s son.

I am grateful that a firearm purchase waiting period bill was taken up and a reasonable compromise passed the Senate. I now urge the House leadership to work hard to pass this bill and I urge the governor to support it.

How many Andrew Blacks should we sacrifice waiting for another session? How many other mothers are going to have to start counting their days?

It’s day 137. Tonight, I will lay down and say the same words I’ve said the last 136 nights. “I made it through another day.”

Alyssa Black lives in Essex, Vt.