GoVT Updates 2-26-23
As we approach spring, we are reminded of one of the things unique to New England and especially Vermont, which is the custom of Town Meeting Day, where residents gather to engage in robust debate on local issues in their respective communities. Moreover, Vermont has enjoyed a long-standing tradition of being one of the last places on Earth where common people have access to their government and might have a direct influence on the policies created by their legislators. But all that is changing.
Gun rights groups enjoyed a small victory this week when after much lobbying from GoVT, VTFSC and VTC, we were able to get the prohibitive “assault weapon” language stricken from bill S.4, which otherwise deals mostly with criminal judicial proceedings for juveniles. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5 – 0 in favor of removing Section 8 which would have established a legal definition for the oft-used misnomer and prohibited possession of many common firearms for those under 21.
The Senators begrudgingly expressed concern with the constitutionality of the proposed language under the new scrutiny applied in the recent Supreme Court decision NYSRPA v Bruen, but also left the door open for such legislation to possibly be considered again later in a separate bill. We worked very hard to have this harmful language removed from the bill and are very pleased that we were able to accomplish this goal, however our elation was extremely short lived.
Just a few hours later, in another part of the building, the House committee on healthcare took up Bill H.230 – “An act related to implementing mechanisms to reduce suicide” which, up till a few hours prior to the hearing had appeared on the legislature’s website in short form only (bill number, sponsors and stated purpose, but otherwise no text.) Once the official text of the bill had been disseminated, it became quite clear that this legislation was something crafted specifically aimed at restricting gun rights and packaged very crudely as measures in harm reduction.
The text of the bill states: “The purpose of this legislation is to prevent death by suicide by reducing access to lethal means of firearms. Although there are many other methods for committing suicide, firearms are unique in their ability to create instantaneous and irreversible outcomes. Nearly every other commonly used method for suicide has a high survivability rate. It is extremely rare for someone to survive a suicide attempt in which a firearm is used. This fact, combined with the high prevalence of firearms in Vermont, is why this method alone is being addressed by this bill.”
The specific measures of the bill include:
1) A “safe storage” provision which requires firearms to be kept locked and/or rendered inoperable in the home and stored separately from ammunition;
2) A requirement that FFLs post signage displaying anti-gun propaganda: “Access to a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, death during domestic violence disputes, and the unintentional death of children, household members, and others.”;
3) An adjustment to Vermont’s Extreme Risk Protection Order (more commonly know as “Red Flag”) law which allows a family or household member to petition the court for an ERPO (currently the State’s Attorney must file the petition) and,
4) To impose a 72-hour waiting period an all firearm transfers in Vermont.
More ominous than the terrible implications of this sort of bill is the speed with which it appears poised to pass. The same day it was introduced, the committee took testimony from Chris Bradley (president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs), as well as a representative from Everytown for Gun Safety (a Bloomberg-funded, anti-rights organization.) Gun Owners of Vermont was conspicuously not invited to give testimony on Tuesday, and while we thought we might get the opportunity to weigh in a bit later, it appears that we were wrong.
The very next day, without hearing testimony from any other witnesses, the committee made a quick few adjustments to some trivial wording and promptly passed the bill 7 to 3, on a party-line vote. The bill was then sent to the House floor where it was remanded to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration, as is necessary when dealing with firearms and criminal statutes.
GoVT is hoping to get the opportunity to testify on this bill in Judiciary, however at the time of this writing (Sunday afternoon) we have still not received an invitation to do so and there is still no committee agenda posted for the upcoming week, even though we have heard through the grapevine that it will see action this coming Wednesday.
This brings us back to my opening point that the historic access to policy-making enjoyed by the common man in Vermont is slowly dying. Regardless of whether we get to speak our piece or not, it appears this bill has wings and is poised to fly right through the process without lawmakers feeling obligated to even give it the pretense of objective consideration. With crossover (the date at which a bill must be passed by one chamber to be considered by the other in the same year) looming on March 17th, and lawmakers off during the week of town meeting, this leaves a total of 8 working days with which to take into consideration all points of view and relevant data on a highly contentious subject; a process which has traditionally included dozens of professional witnesses and at least one public hearing.
This year, emboldened by their new, veto-proof supermajority, and as they have done with so many other things, it appears the party of power in Montpelier has already made the decision that this bill will become law, regardless of how Vermonters feel about it. Gun rights advocates and Republican lawmakers alike are barely being given the courtesy to voice an opinion on the matter and are increasingly treated as more of a nuisance to be resentfully tolerated, rather than representatives of constituents in a democratic republic built upon the preservation of individual rights, whose concerns warrant any type of consideration.
Although this legislation is obviously being fast-tracked that still doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do. GoVT will continue to be a thorn in the side of gun control politicians and we encourage our followers to do the same. There is still a lot of procedural hurdles for this bill to clear and we encourage everyone to make their voices heard every step of the way. Contact your local reps and (professionally) voice your displeasure that you are being excluded from the process. Ask why we are not being given the opportunity for a public hearing as has been customary in the past. Ask why their legislation always seems to target law abiding gun owners over any other means of solving the purported problem and why the only tool they seem to use for fixing problems is the restriction of individual rights. Refuse to be ignored. Refuse to let them blame you for problems you didn’t create. Remember, silence is consent.
The silver lining to all this is that the Supreme Court has issued several rulings which give us the ability to challenge these bad laws and if the time comes, we fully intend to do so. In the short term however, we need to do everything we can to mitigate the damage before a bad bill becomes law. That includes staying in regular contact with your reps, getting involved in your local politics, running for office or lending your assistance to someone who is, and maybe the easiest thing you can do is to consider becoming a paid member of your local advocacy groups like GoVT. No contribution or involvement is too small, and it helps much more than you realize.
Get in the fight and stay the course. The oath breakers wouldn’t be trying to pass these bills if they weren’t cognizant of the strength of the Vermont gun culture which they work so tirelessly to erode.
President, Gun Owners of Vermont