Courier Q&A: Second Amendment?
QUESTION: Mass shootings continue to make headlines throughout America. Vermont has responded in recent years, enacting new gun laws aimed at reducing the chance of a mass shooting taking place in the Green Mountain State. Do you think Vermont had adequately addressed this issue, and if not, what direction would you like Vermont to move in when it comes to gun laws?
Vermont historically has supported its citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Despite having among the nation’s highest percentages of gun ownership, Vermont has done so with few state restrictions and with one of the lowest rates of violent crime in America. It would be wrong – and Constitutionally-dubious – to punish thousands of law-abiding Vermonters for something that they did not and would never do.
Vermont has had one mass shooting in the decade since 2013. In 2015, in a case of domestic violence, four people were murdered, including a Vermont Department of Children and Families social worker. Although a rifle was involved, it was not an assault weapon.
In 2018, a mass school shooting at Fair Haven High School was averted. The shooter, who had obtained a weapon and ammunition, told a friend at a high school in New York what he was planning. She told her School Resource Officer. He notified Vermont police. The potential shooter was arrested and a tragedy was averted.
In both cases the shooter told others what they were planning to do. In the Barre incident, a witness overheard the shooter angrily threatening to kill three of the victims hours before the shooting, but no one was notified and four innocent people died. In the Fair Haven case, someone reported the threat and scores of potential victims lived.
According to a prominent anti-gun group, 56% of mass shooters have warned others about their plans before acting. We’ve all heard the phrase “See Something, Say Something.” In Vermont’s mass shooting history, that message shouts at us. We need a coordinated communications effort, in schools, public media, social service organizations, religious services, advertising, medical consultations and public service announcements to spread the message about how important it is for people to report threats and how to do so without fear. We have to encourage people, especially young people, to speak up.
Here are five things we can and must do to reduce the threat:
- Spread the message about when and how to report threats. Encourage everyone who hears something to say something.
- Enforce gun laws already on the books, such as putting in jail criminals who are found with guns they are prohibited from having. We should consider enhancing sentences for crimes committed while armed.
- Ensure that background investigations identify people whose criminal records or court orders prohibit from owning guns.
- Make sure that “red flag” laws are working and that courts act quickly, while protecting the accused’s Second Amendment rights, to remove guns from those who present a public danger. Review whether and how well our red flag laws are working.
- Ensure that citizens can continue to obtain firearms for lawful purposes, including self-protection.