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Hundreds turn out for hearing on Vt. gun control bill

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee meets at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Vt., to hear testimony on proposed gun safety regulations on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)

  • Cody Goebel of Island Pond, Vt., holds an American flag before a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Vt., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. The committee met to hear testimony on proposed gun safety regulations. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)

  • Laurie Emerson, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Vermont, testifies in favor of a proposed gun safety regulations before a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Vt., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)



VtDigger
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

RANDOLPH — The firearms debate returned to center stage on Tuesday. This time, however, instead of hearing testimony under Montpelier’s Golden Dome, lawmakers took their show on the road, listening to constituent feedback on a proposed 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

The focus of the hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday was SB 22, legislation proposed by Sen. Philip Baruth D/P-Chittenden. The measure calls for a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases and a safe storage requirement for firearms.

About 350 people attended the hearing, and judging by the blaze orange clothing worn by many gun rights supporters in the crowd, more people at the forum opposed the legislation than supported it.

Supporters of the bill on Tuesday said it would provide a “cooling off” period for people on the verge of taking “impulsive” actions, including suicide, using firearms.

Christopher Ashley, of Norwich, testified in favor of the 48-hour waiting period. He attended the event wearing a green and white sticker on his shirt showing his support for Gun Sense Vermont, an organization that backed firearms legislation enacted last year that set limits on magazine capacity and required background checks for private sales of firearms.

“I think this is a reasonable effort for a couple more important bills to prevent suicides by having a waiting period and to make sure that people that chose to have weapons store them safely,” Ashley said.

Opponents, many dressed in the bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stop New Yorking my Vermont Gun Rights!” said a waiting period requirement would block people who have an immediate need of self-defense from an opportunity to quickly purchase a firearm.

“I want to be able to defend myself and my family,” Nancy Stoddard, of Brookfield, told the panel. “I would rather be tried by 12 than carried out by six.”

Seconds earlier she scolded the committee for not starting the hearing with the Pledge of Allegiance.

“We are all Americans here,” Stoddard said.

There were frequent flashpoints during the two-hour hearing.

Amber Chambers, of Lowell, said while many of the speakers cited facts and figures, she was simply going to give her opinion: “This is bullshit.”

Michael Morgan, who along with his father owns the Milton gun shop, Antiquities & Arms, also spoke against the waiting period. He described it as “knee jerk,” “feel-good” legislation.

“Should we have a 48-hour waiting period to buy a car to prevent drunk driving?” he asked the Senate panel.

Several barbs were directed at Baruth, the state senator sponsoring the waiting period legislation. One man offered to pay for the Chittenden County lawmaker to move out of Vermont.

“You know I’m kind of used to it as this point,” Baruth said following the hearing. “We’re not allowed to speak back during the public forum, and you know, I think that’s good. It’s a time to listen.”

Mary Cox, of Burlington, told the committee she was speaking as a mother, sister and 27-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“I’m very concerned about the high suicide rates among veterans,” she told the panel. “Having a reasonable waiting period makes sense because we now have many more tools, many more paths to take, to help people when they feel despair.”

David Hamilton, an Episcopal priest in Vermont, said when a person commits suicide there is not just one death.

“There are many repercussions, and in a way the spirits of the many people who knew that person have suffered a death as well,” he said. If one person can be saved from suicide as the result of a waiting period “it is a very worthwhile thing to do.”

Rodney Chayer, of Duxbury, said he didn’t think a waiting period was the answer to the problem the legislation is seeking to address.

“If somebody wants to commit suicide, they’re going to do it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right to punish everybody for some people’s mistakes.”

Proponents of the waiting period held a panel discussion in Montpelier last month, in which they countered the notion that people who can’t get guns will “find another way.” Ninety percent of people who attempt suicide and survive don’t try to kill themselves again, they said.

Speakers signed up on Tuesday ahead of the hearing to address the committee and speakers were randomly selected through a drawing. Each person had 2 minutes to speak.

The firearms debate this year is toned down from last year, when gun legislation dominated the early part of the session and led to the passage of historic new restrictions on gun use in Vermont.

This biennium, Gov. Phil Scott says he’s not inclined to endorse new legislation.

Two lawsuits currently are pending over the constitutionality of gun laws enacted last year.

Scott supported restrictions last year after police shared the details of a foiled school shooting plot in Fair Haven.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take testimony on SB 22, and other firearms-related bills this week. Judiciary chairman Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, has said there is a 50/50 chance that the bill will be voted out of committee by Friday.