Senate bill 141, as passed by the House Friday, is headed for concurrence with the
Senate version of the bill. This is a good time to review the history of the bill. Originally
touted as a “reasonable first step” towards gun control law reform in Vermont by the
lead sponsors and GunSense Vermont, the bill does none of that. Worse yet, at the
expense of families who have experience the mental health crisis of a loved one, it’s
supporters still echo the statement that this is “a good first step”.
●Originally sponsored by Sen. John Campbell, Senate President Pro Tem, the bill
contained a provision commonly referred to as “universal background checks”
(UBC). That false title indicates that somehow selling a firearm to a felon or
other “prohibited person” under 18 USC is not already illegal. It is illegal and
felons know this. This provision would only have resulted in costs to lawful
firearms owners who sell and trade with other family members and friends.
Violent felons and drug dealers do not purchase guns from lawful gun owners.
They steal them or buy them from other felons. UBC would never change that
●The truth is that approximately 1,000 Vermonters showed their opposition to the
UBC idea by appearing at the public hearing in February, resulting in the
immediate removal of UBC from the bill.
●That outpouring of opposition was the largest grass roots demonstration in
Vermont in decades, by some estimates (Sergeant At Arms personnel) a larger
attendance than the public hearing on the civil union bill in 2000.
●Opposition grew to the bill’s section 7 requirement that individuals who have
recovered from a mental health crisis be subjected to an additional court
process in order to recover their constitutional rights to own and use firearms.
This objection was brought by firearms rights as well as mental health rights
advocates. As a result of this coalition, the original “waiting period” for those
seeking restoration of that right was reduced first from 5 to 3 years, then to 18
months and finally to zero in the House vote friday.
●A last minute attempt to impose an impossibly high evidentiary standard to
those seeking to restore their civil rights was also stopped by the same
advocates. Rep. Willem Jewett (House Judiciary Vice Chair) from Ripton
supported the change to a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard, raising
the likelihood that Petitioners would have to endure a lengthy and expensive trial
process. Under mounting criticism, the House leadership crafted an unusual
amendment to return that standard to the “preponderance” of the evidence.
●As passed S.141 will not create one more “prohibited person” nor will it restrict
the rights of lawful gun owners. In effect, the bill gained nothing for the gun
control establishment and GunSense Vermont.
●As passed S.141 is a straightforward victory for lawful Vermont gun owners.
And, because this victory comes in spite of the more than $100,000 spent by
GunSense Vermont by hiring the Necrasson Group, a prominent Montpelier
lobbying firm, the bill is a clear defeat for the big money approach to
establishing gun control in the state.
How does the bill discriminate against Vermonters who have recovered from a
mental health crisis?
The bill sets up a Family Court based Petition system for those Vermonters who have
had their civil rights removed which will further stigmatize and burden these families
with an adversarial and expensive process to restore that most cherished right, the
right to bear arms. For the few who would be willing to face such a process, the Fiscal
Note attached to the bill reflects court costs for expert psychiatric witnesses, court
administrative costs and attorney fees that will likely run far over $10,000 without
appeals. It is reasonable to expect that Petitioners would experience similar if not
greater costs. This process, known as the Petition for Relief from Disability (from the
Civil Right) will create a two-class system for those seeking relief. The haves and
have-nots will face different treatment in the process and restoration of firearm owners
rights will be only for the wealthy.
Those experiencing a mental health crisis who are adjudicated for hospitalization or for
a non-hospitalization order are faced with expert testimony along with the force and
power of the state. Legal assistance is sometimes provided these persons through
Vermont Legal Aid by court appointment. In the Petition process in S.141 no such
assistance is offered even though these same Vermonters face the same experts and
attorneys in the same Family Court under the bill. Vermont Legal Aid stated that their
assistance would be appropriate but their funding does not allow for that. S.141
neither authorizes such assistance and funding nor proposes to even study whether
such assistance should be provided.
It is sad that gun control advocates feel that it is okay to continue to stigmatize and
extend the difficult process of healing faced by victims of mental illness simply to
forward their agenda in Vermont. Is that foothold towards a further restriction on
Vermonters constitutional rights worth using these folks who have faced that crisis,
survived, become well and are seeking to resume a normal life? Returning to normal
life is part of that recovery and hunting camps, participating in community life with
friends at the local shooting range and protection of your self and family are all part
and parcel of that return to normalcy.
Vermont Traditions Coalition (VTC) is comprised of sportsmen and women, agriculture
and forest land owners, the hunting and fishing community, camp owners and other
grassroots membership organizations concerned with preserving Vermont’s traditions
and culture in a viable working landscape. VTC also is a charter member of VT2A, a
group formed to coordinate the efforts of various gun rights groups fighting against
restriction of Vermont’s Constitutional Article 16 and United State’s Constitution 2nd
Amendment rights. Other members of VT2A include the Vermont Federation of
Sportsmens Clubs and Gun Owners of Vermont.
William Moore, Firearms Policy Analyst
Vermont Traditions Coalition