MONTPELIER — It looks as though a bill requiring safe storage for guns will not move forward in the Senate while a potential waiting period for gun purchases is still up in the air.
The Senate Judiciary Committee continued to hear testimony Wednesday on multiple gun bills. But the bill that has seen the most attention is one that would require a 48-hour waiting period on gun purchases. The bill would also require a gun to be stored safely when not in the immediate possession or control of its owner.
The committee held a public forum on the gun bills at Vermont Technical College in Randolph on Tuesday night. Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, one of the main sponsors of the bill and a member of the committee, said Wednesday multiple people told the committee there’s nothing wrong with keeping a loaded firearm at their bedside table.
“There’s a fairly common idea among gun owners that it should be OK to have a loaded weapon where a child could get it,” he said.
Baruth said based on the testimony he’s heard, the state isn’t ready for a safe storage law for gun ownership. Committee members have commented on how difficult such a provision would be to enforce. He said he would support the bill without that provision.
Baruth has heard testimony in support of a waiting period, specifically that it would create a “cooling off” time for people buying guns to do harm to themselves or to others. Opponents to the measure say people should have immediate access to guns to protect themselves and say waiting periods create an unnecessary roadblock toward a constitutional right.
Committee member Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, bristled during the discussion, saying he’d been “sold out”: He said the same people who supported an extreme risk protection order law are now asking for waiting periods on gun purchases.
“After having listened to victims’ advocates clearly telling us about five days after a breakup (being the most dangerous) in domestic violence situations, I went not just to this committee several times. I went to the governor’s office. I went to the speaker of the house. I’d been to the caucuses on both sides, and I begged and pleaded for us to come to unity and universally vote (on the orders),” he said.
Benning said he thinks a waiting period and safe storage requirement would place obstacles in the way of domestic violence victims. He said the bill assumes a given number of hours could impact a person’s decision.
Benning said he recently acquired a rifle from a family member that now hangs over his door frame. He said based on how the bill is written, he would be violating the law.
“I’ll tell ya, I’ve really reached the point where I say, ‘Come on and arrest me.’ This is going too far. I can’t for the life of me support any one of those provisions,” he said.
Benning said he would make similar comments to the Senate if the bill came to the floor.
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chairman of the committee, said he wasn’t sure how he was going to vote on the bill.
MONTPELIER — Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are thrilled with proposed changes to the state’s youthful offender law.
Last year, the youthful offender law changed whereby anyone 21 years old or younger charged with a crime could be eligible for youthful offender status.
That status allows the offender to be placed on probation and supervised and treated by the Department of Corrections and the Department for Children and Families. If the offender successfully completes probation, they can have the case sealed and their record expunged. If not, the case could be sent back to criminal court.
Before last year’s change, those who had a criminal case and sought youthful offender status had to plead guilty to the crime. The case would remain public until a judge determined whether it was appropriate for youthful offender status based on the charges and risk to public safety, if the person was amenable to treatment and if there were appropriate resources in place for the offender.
Now, the moment a defense attorney or a prosecutor files a motion seeking youthful offender status for any defendant 21 or younger, the case becomes confidential until the judge makes that determination.
If the case is accepted into the juvenile docket, it remains confidential through its conclusion, and its outcome will not be made public. If not accepted into the juvenile docket, it returns to the criminal court and again becomes public record.
A bill has come out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee looking to address some of the issues the law currently has.
Marshall Pahl, the chief juvenile defender from the defender general’s office, said the bulk of the changes are technical corrections and clarifications. But he did take exception to one change: If the bill is passed into law as written, only prosecutors will be able to refer youthful offender cases for defendants aged 20 and 21.
Pahl said this would give prosecutors an uncheckable power to refer cases without needing a judge or the defense to weigh in.
“A discretion that can’t be reviewed is a discretion that can’t be tested,” he said.
Pahl said this was an issue a couple of years ago when prosecutors could pick the court in which to charge 16- or 17-year-old offenders, be it juvenile court or adult criminal court.
“What you saw was really geographic injustice,” Pahl said. “There would be one county where nearly everything went to criminal court. Then there would be another county where nearly everything went to juvenile court.”
Some prosecutors aren’t happy with the language either. John Campbell, executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, said this bill would give a judge, the state or the defense up to 90 days to determine if the offender is eligible for drug treatment court.
Campbell said the point of treatment court is to get offenders who need it into the program as soon as possible. He said that’s when they are most amenable to treatment.
With a three-month window, the offender may think they can continue to use drugs until the determination is made, Campbell said.
He added not every county has a drug treatment court: Only five exist in a state with 14 counties.
If an offender is placed in treatment court in a county without one, he or she could have their case transferred to a county that does. They would have to travel to that county for court on a weekly or bi-weekly basis which can be difficult for those with a substance use issue, Campbell said.
One of Rutland’s own was recognized by Vice President Mike Pence in a speech he gave Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Pence’s speech was at the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference, an annual gathering of those in the credit union industry. He complimented several people on their work, among them, Sara DeLance, senior vice president of retail at Heritage Family Credit Union in Rutland.
“The truth is, people that know members of this great association, you make it possible for American families to buy that next car, to send a child to college, to buy that dream home. You make it possible for countless entrepreneurs to start a small business and help drive our economy,” Pence said in his speech, which was aired by C-Span (https://cs.pn/2F8KUnx). “The men and women who run America’s credit unions, each one of you and all those you represent, you really do incredible work every day. There’s really too many stories to tell today, but let me mention a few. Sara DeLance is here from Rutland, Vermont. Sara, are you in the house?”
DeLance was in the house, and while she’d been asked the day before if it would be all right for Pence to mention her name, she said in a phone interview Wednesday she wasn’t expecting him to do so.
“It was a very humbling experience, and a huge honor to be recognized as a leading credit union professional by Vice President Mike Pence,” she said. “It was very surreal.”
DeLance said she was able to briefly meet Pence after his speech and was able to take a photo of herself alongside him.
“Fifteen years ago, I’m told, Sara took her first job as a part-time teller at her local credit union, but today, because of her hard work, skill and determination, Sara is now a senior vice president at Heritage Family Credit Union, and just last year she was recognized for outstanding service when Sara was named one of Vermont Business Magazine’s Rising Stars. Now, let’s hear it for Sara,” said Pence, drawing applause from the crowd.
DeLance said she’s been in Washington, D.C., since Saturday and plans to return to Rutland on Thursday. She said she and others from CUNA have been meeting with lawmakers to talk about the role credit unions play in the nation’s economy. As a member of the CUNA Young Professionals Advisory Committee, she said she’s pleased to see an interest being taken in the development of young professionals.
According to the CUNA website, DeLance is a graduate of Green Mountain College, is the president of the Vermont Credit Union Young Professionals — a group she founded — and is working on obtaining her Masters of Business Administration from Champlain College.
RANDOLPH — About 200 gun rights advocates traveled to Randolph Tuesday evening to weigh in on proposed gun legislation that they say violates their right to bear arms.
The death of a 23-year-old Essex man by suicide last year has many lawmakers pushing for a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases. Andrew Black took his own life hours after purchasing a firearm, and his parents — and many public health officials — say a waiting period will help protect Vermonters from acting impulsively on suicidal thoughts.
For Monkton resident Scott Chapman, the question before lawmakers this year boils down to this:
“What we have before us is a pure civil rights discussion of whether or not our right on the Second Amendment, and Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution, is a right as equal to our other individual rights,” Chapman told lawmakers at a public hearing Tuesday.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution couches the right to bear arms within the framework of a “well-regulated Militia.” But Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution is more unambiguous in its construction: “that the people have a right to bear arms for the defence (sic) of themselves and the State.”
It’s sacred language to gun rights advocates like Chapman, and he told lawmakers that they’re treading on gun rights in ways they wouldn’t dream of restricting other constitutional protections.
“How about the media here? How about they have a 48-hour waiting period to produce the 6 o’clock news and have to ask government permission to exercise their First Amendment rights?” Chapman said.
Chapman’s comments won him a round of applause from the crowd that turned out for a public hearing at Vermont Technical College, where opponents of proposed gun legislation vastly outnumbered supporters.
The 48-hour waiting period isn’t the only proposed gun bill in Montpelier this year. But it’s the one that appears to have the most momentum in the State House right now.
That’s because several prominent lawmakers, like Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, think it’ll help reduce suicide rates that are among the highest in New England.
“I personally support the waiting period provision, although I’m open to the length of duration,” Ashe said Tuesday.
Ashe said he rejects that idea that a waiting period constitutes a “restriction” on Vermonters’ right to bear arms.
“It doesn’t create any prohibition on particular gun purchases. It doesn’t create a class of people ineligible to purchase them,” Ashe said. “It says that there will be a brief pause between the time you go in and purchase the gun and when you take possession of it.”
Even if the 48-hour waiting period is a restriction, Christopher Ashley, of Norwich, told lawmakers there’s a legitimate public interest in imposing it.
Ashley said a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision, called District of Columbia v. Heller, affirmed that people have a right to own a gun for self-defense.
“But it also ruled that this right is not unlimited, and the government can place reasonable restrictions on that right,” Ashley said Tuesday.
A law that could reduce the likelihood that someone will use a gun to harm themselves or others, Ashley said, is a worthy restriction.
“You have a right to weapons, but there’s a right too for the society to have reasonable rules to protect each other,” Ashley said. “And I regard S.22 as a reasonable effort to protect society as a whole.”
Many gun advocates who turned out for the public hearing on Tuesday rejected the notion that a waiting period would reduce suicide rates. But even those willing to concede the argument, like Monkton resident Justin Lindholm, said it still doesn’t warrant passage of the bill.
“You can’t just take away people’s rights to save a life here and there,” Lindholm said.
For other critics of the legislation, the opposition is rooted as much in economics as constitutional philosophy.
Devon Craig, with the Barre Fish and Game Club, said the organization has sponsored an annual gun show for the past 37 years.
“A waiting period would be the end of the gun show as it depends mostly on spontaneous buys,” Craig said. “And it would drastically affect the revenue to local business such as restaurants, hotels, motels and advertising services.”
Lawmakers last year passed the most sweeping gun legislation in Vermont’s history. The Senate Judiciary Committee could vote on this waiting period proposal as early as Friday.
“A major species extinction event, compromising planetary integrity and Earth’s capacity to meet human needs, is unfolding.”
The sixth Global Environment Outlook, a report released Wednesday at a U.N. conference in Nairobi, Kenya, warns of a dire future. — A6
Foot run over
A Fair Haven teenager is facing a felony charge after police say he ran over another person’s foot in the parking lot of a local convenience store. A3
Students involved in Mill River Union High School’s popular annual musical Bistro will this year focus on Broadway with a program of show tunes. B5
Hand-picked short films shown in the loft event space. This month’s theme: “Grit — Stories of Courage and Resolve.” Popcorn included. 7-8 p.m. Sparkle Barn, 1509 Route 7, Wallingford, firstname.lastname@example.org, 446-2044.