Firearms Compromise Bill (S.169) Floor Speech

This past week, the VT Senate debated and passed S.169, a bill related to firearm procedures. It was a compromise that contained some elements of S.22, a bill I co-sponsored which would have imposed a 48-hour waiting period for all gun purchases and requirements for the safe storage of firearms. Below is the text of my floor speech related to the compromise established in S.169, which imposes a shorter, limited waiting period and no safe storage provisions.

Last December, a young man committed suicide in Chittenden County; he purchased a gun from a local shop and less than two hours later he was dead. Five years ago, a beloved Vermont Law School professor purchased a gun from a local gun shop and a few hours later she was dead.

Over the five-year period from 2011 to 2016, 420 Vermonters took their lives with a gun, including 87 people under age 30. One of them was a classmate of my oldest daughter, who killed himself with a gun from his home. At least one of them was probably someone that each of my senate colleagues knows.

Ninety percent of all suicide attempts with a firearm are successful, meaning that almost everyone who tries to kill themselves with a gun, any kind of gun, ends up dead. By contrast, the vast majority of people who try to kill themselves by other means don’t succeed and are able get help and live out their lives.

The victims of suicide are not simply the people who take their own lives. Family members and friends are also victims, wondering what more they could have done to save their son or wife or friend. Last year, 169 seniors at Middlebury Union High School were wondering why their classmate wasn’t among them at graduation and what they could have done to save him.

A little over a year ago, plans for a mass shooting at the Fair Haven High School were prevented by a brave young woman speaking up about threats of violence. A few months ago, plans for a shooting at the Middlebury Union Middle School, where my son goes to school, were also prevented by a brave student who spoke up about what he heard. Students and teachers and parents at both schools were left with terrifying thoughts about what almost happened and about what they could do to prevent the next possible school shooting.

A year ago today, I was in the Statehouse accompanying students who were here to tell their legislators that they wanted change. As the mother of three teenagers and one of only five members of this body currently raising school-aged children, I know first hand the impact gun violence is having on young people in Vermont and nationwide.

All children, in every state and region, rural and urban, are growing up in a culture replete with the threat of gun violence. Firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens, and learning how to protect yourself from an active shooter at school is now a required part of the curriculum. Our children are stressed and scared, and they have been demanding that we do something.

What we are doing today is debating a compromise that would not adequately address the threat of gun violence.

As of June 1, all states that have a waiting period for firearms purchases will require a waiting period of at least 72 hours, many require 7 to 10 days. Preventing suicide or gun violence requires time. The compromise 24-hour waiting period contained in S.169 is not long enough to best ensure time for a person struggling with suicide to seek help, or for a woman threatened by a violent boyfriend to leave or seek protection, or for law enforcement to investigate a potential threat of violence at a school or place of worship.

The compromise to include only handguns in the insufficient waiting period in S.169 does not address the reality that someone can kill themselves or others with a rifle just as easily as they can kill themselves with a hand gun. It doesn’t address the reality that a gun shop clerk could tell someone that he can’t purchase a handgun today, but he can purchase a rifle or assault weapon to get the job done.

The compromise also does not require the safe storage of firearms, another important element to suicide, gun violence, and firearm accident prevention. States with a safe storage law in place that required guns to be locked at least in certain circumstances have 68% fewer firearm suicides per capita than states without these laws.  As would have been the case in the prevented Middlebury Union Middle School shooting, a federal report found that in 65% of school shootings covered by the study, the shooter used a gun obtained from his own home or from the home of a relative.

I grew up in a rural area and live in a rural area now. My brother hunted water fowl and practiced target shooting in our hay field. My dear neighbor does the same now. I would happily spend an afternoon at the shooting range with any of my senate colleagues. I am supportive of a person’s ability to safely own and enjoy using a gun for sport and hobby. I know that the vast majority of Vermont gunowners are safe and responsible.

I also know that guns pose a significant public health, domestic violence, and public safety threat. Common sense firearms provisions that would require a more robust waiting period for the purchase of a firearm and parameters for the safe storage of a firearm would better address these threats than the watered-down compromise in S.169.

I ran for office so I wouldn’t have to wonder what more I could have done to help prevent the loss of life from gun violence. I testified in the Senate Judiciary Committee asking my colleagues to support a longer waiting period and safe storage provisions. They would not support such measures. I was told that a compromise had been reached and that it could not be altered.

Change can be slow. The students I brought to the Statehouse last year wanted change. The students who walked out of school on a snowy day last March wanted change. Some change came last year thanks to the efforts of many people in this chamber. Some change will come this year thanks to many of those same people.

I did not get elected to wonder how I could have prevented a suicide or a school shooting or a domestic murder. I got elected to make change. I understand the value and necessity of compromise, so I will support S.169. But more change will come, and I will be here, in this chamber, to help make it happen.