By Rep. Joan Lenes
Last week was a passionate and emotional week on the House Floor in Montpelier. The issue on hand was gun control. The House was given Senate Bill S. 141, an act relating to the possession of firearms. Earlier, it had been passed by the Senate on a vote of 20 in favor and eight opposed. All six of our Chittenden County Senators voted in favor.
The House Judiciary Committee was then given the bill, took testimony, deliberated, made changes, and passed it out of their Committee on a vote of seven in favor and four opposed. When this was reported in the House, the debate against this proposed legislation was that it would impinge on the rights of Vermonters to have guns and would limit their second amendment rights, the right to bear arms, a right Vermonters have had since July 8, 1777. S.141 will not do that.
S. 141 makes it a misdemeanor crime for a person that has been convicted of a violent offense or adjudicated as mentally ill to possess a firearm. People prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms for mental health reasons would have their names reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). These reports are confidential and only include information sufficient to identify the person and the reason for the report. Included is also a process to have the names removed from this list by petitioning the Court. The bill requires that the Departments of Public Safety and Mental Health report on progress in establishing a Vermont version of the New Hampshire Gun Shop Project, an initiative in New Hampshire to reduce the number of firearm related suicide deaths by helping gun shop owners avoid providing firearms to suicidal persons. All other states and the Federal government currently prohibit possession of a firearm by violent offenders and 38 states require or authorize the use of certain mental health records for use in a firearm background check.
This legislation would reduce gun violence and trafficking by keeping firearms away from domestic abusers, drug dealers, and other violent criminals as well as people who are deemed mentally unstable by a court of law. This bill does not affect law-abiding Vermonters, who are not deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others.
A broad coalition of parents, police, teachers, and mayors, as well as a majority of Vermonters support this common sense legislation. One indication of this is the Castleton poll released last month that found 77 percent of Vermonters support universal background checks, including 86 percent of women, 93 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.
In one of the most moving moments, Rep. Sam Young D-Glover spoke of his brother who had been diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia. Their father had gone to the local gun shop and asked the owner to never sell Tim a gun. The problem was he did not go to every neighboring town with that same request. Tim did buy a gun, killed himself, and was found 18 months later. Perhaps this law could have saved him.
In her vote explanation, Rep. Komline R-Dorset stated “Mr. Speaker, I am proud that we, Vermonters, took up this challenging issue and found a way to keep guns out of the wrong hands while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. Contrary to comments made, our Veterans and others needing counseling will still be able to get their support services while keeping their guns. I feel privileged to support this bill. The time for this law is long overdue.” I, too, am proud that I could vote in favor of this rational and appropriate legislation.
Please stop by Bruegger’s Bagel on Shelburne Road Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am for conversation, questions, or concerns. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (802) 999-9363.