FAQs

What does GunSenseVT hope to achieve?

A:

GunSenseVT wants to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Vermont’s current gun laws are among the most lax in the nation. It is our hope to bring about common sense changes to these laws which enhance public safety and respect the constitutional rights of individuals. 

What specific measures is GunSenseVT advocating for?

A:

We are advocating for measures that will help keep guns out of the wrong hands, specifically:

  1. Universal Background Checks
  2. Tougher Gun Trafficking Laws
  3. Safe Storage Laws
  4. Better Communication Between State Agencies and the NICS background check system
  5. Bringing State Law in Line with Federal Law to Prohibit Violent Felons from Possessing Weapons

Does Vermont Have a Gun Problem?

A:

Yes. Vermont has the highest rate of gun deaths in New England (twice that of Massachusetts). Many of these deaths are suicides (we had the 16th highest suicide rate in the country in 2009 and since then it has risen by 15%), and there is substantial research to show that laws that help keep guns out of the wrong hands can help prevent suicides.

Vermont also has the 16th highest rate of gun trafficking in the nation. This is because our laws are weaker than every other state around us, and as our neighboring states tighten their laws, Vermont will stand out even more as a place where criminals can come and be assured of easy access to weapons. Not only does this bring criminals into our communities, but often the criminals are also trafficking drugs with them, as well. Arrests for drug and gun violations have occurred even in small communities, such as Starksboro and Dorset.

For a list of recent crimes involving firearms: click here: http://gunsensevt.nationbuilder.com/vt_gun_incidents

 Sources:

Why Act at the State Level?

What good does it do to have stricter gun laws in Vermont if other states or the federal government have different laws?

A:

Actually Vermont’s current gun laws are among the most lax in the nation (only Arizona’s gun laws are weaker than Vermont’s), so stricter gun laws are likely to more closely align us with other states and federal laws and will stop us from being a weak link in our region.

It is also the case that violations of federal gun laws within Vermont’s borders are not always prosecuted due to the lack of manpower at the federal level.  If Vermont had laws similar to those existing at the federal level, then Vermont law enforcement could arrest and prosecutors could prosecute on state charges, an option not open to them now.

Stricter gun laws in Vermont will also lead to less gun trafficking to neighboring states with stricter laws. Vermont is currently ranked 16th among all states as an exporter of guns for criminal purposes, and has the weakest laws in the northeast. When comparing how weak our laws are versus our neighbor New Hampshire, New Hampshire is ranked #26 out of the 50 states for weak guns laws, while Vermont is ranked #2 with some of the weakest laws in the nation. Vermont’s lack of common sense gun laws is a problem for our good neighbors to the north, south, east and west.

Why not focus just at the federal level?

A:

It would be great if the federal government could pass stronger gun laws, but when the Senate was unable to pass the Toomey-Manchin Background Check bill in April 2013, it became clear that we cannot assume meaningful action will happen soon. However, if states like Vermont can pass meaningful gun safety legislation at the state level, that will send a message to the federal government that they need to act, accelerating the process.

Also, even if the federal government does pass legislation, Vermont laws are so lax compared to the other states around us that we will still need our state legislature to fill in some gaps. For example, the federal government cannot mandate that state agencies report information to the national background check system, such whether someone has been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity. Currently in Vermont that communication does not happen, and a mandate to report it can only come from the state legislature. Also, Vermont is the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a law prohibited violent felons from possessing weapons. In Vermont, because this law is only on the books at the federal level, local law enforcement cannot enforce it themselves and must refer cased to the federal authorities (and frequently those federal authorities do not have the resources to prosecute these cases unless they are coupled with other crimes.)

What is Governor Shumlin’s position on this issue?

A:

Governor Shumlin had said that he does not believe Vermont needs any change to its current gun laws. He claims that passing any laws at the state level would be “feel good legislation.” He also claims that Vermont does not have a gun problem. He likes to say that he is for a “50-state solution” to the gun problem in our country, regardless of whether the federal government is capable of passing meaningful legislation on this issue anytime soon.

 

What are Vermont’s guns laws like right now?

A:

State gun laws are few in number.  There are enhanced penalties for some crimes committed with guns; Vermont teens under the age of 16 are not permitted to have guns without parental permission (giving a gun to a teen under the age of 16 carries a fine of $10- $50); firearms dealers are directed by statute to keep records of their sales.  Federal statutes prohibit convicted felons and others from purchasing or possessing firearms however these laws can only be enforced by federal authorities and charges heard in federal court.  Vermont has not directed the Department of Health to report people with serious mental illness who have been adjudicated a danger to themselves or others to the FBI database and therefore they are able to purchase firearms (given Vermont’s high suicide rate, one would think that this would be more of a priority.)

Vermont has a number of statutes and regulations regarding the number of bullets one can have in a rifle when deer hunting (6); as well as statutes that prohibit carrying loaded rifles in a vehicle (to prohibit hunting from the road also known as deer-jacking); as well as a prohibition on the use of silencers (we are one of 6 states that doesn’t allow them) again to prevent deer-jacking. This was what Senator Leahy was referring to when he said that we have more protections in place for our deer herd than for our children.


Source:

Why do we need Universal Background Checks?

A:

Background checks are the most-effective, systematic way to prevent dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms.

Forty percent of firearm sales in the U.S. happen without any check at all:  current federal law requires background checks only on transactions involving federally licensed dealers (FFLs). Private sales, newspaper and casual online transactions, transfers within families and friends, etc. are unexamined. Given that 30,000 Americans die from gunfire every year and three times that number survive with lifelong crippling injuries, it makes sense to ensure that all potential gun buyers pass a minimum standard.

The average background check takes less than five minutes, more than 90% pass, and the few that don’t should be examined to identify persons who are ineligible to buy guns under federal, state or local law. 

Background checks work.  According to the Dept. of Justice, since the Brady Bill became law, over 1.5 million legally prohibited gun buyers have been blocked from completing their purchases at licensed gun dealers, and most of those were convicted felons.  This number is confirmed by the NRA’s Richard Gardiner, director of state & legal affairs, Institute for Legislative Action, National Rifle Association.

And while some will still try to bypass a background check, having a law in place will give law enforcement the ability to prosecute those individuals.

Considering the lethal toll each year in our nation, it makes sense to impose barriers to those whose past behavior shows they’re likely to misuse firearms.

 


 

Source:

LETHAL LOGIC:  EXPLODING THE MYTHS THAT PARALYZE AMERICAN GUN POLICY, Dennis A. Hennigan (Dulles, Virginia:  Potomac Books, 2009), page 15.

Don't we already require background checks on all gun sales?

A:

Federal firearms dealers are required by federal law to do background checks on all gun sales.  Casual gun sales at gun shows and other venues, as well as online, do not require background checks unless the seller is a licensed firearms dealer, and while organizers of Vermont’s gun shows required background check this past year, the law does not require it.  It has been estimated that nearly 40% of all gun sales nationally are completed without a background check.


Source:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/us/seeking-gun-or-selling-one-web-is-a-land-of-few-rules.html?_r=0

Why do we need tougher gun trafficking laws?

A:

Firearms move from states with weaker gun laws to those with tougher restrictions where they fuel crime.  Interstate gun trafficking flourishes because states regulate gun sales differently and there’s no federal limit on the number of firearms an individual may buy at one time. Jurisdictions with weaker gun laws draw gun traffickers who purchase several guns and resell them in areas with tougher laws. According to FBI Reports (2010), 126 crime guns recovered in western Massachusetts between 2006 and 2010 were traced to Vermont.


 

Source:

Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca C. Knox, EFFECTS OF LIMITING HANDGUN PURCHASES ON INTERSTATE TRANSFER OF FIREARMS, JAMA, 1759, 1759-60 (1996). 

How can we strengthen our gun trafficking laws?

A:

The website tracetheguns.org lists the 10 laws that help limit gun trafficking — Vermont only has 1 out of 10.

10 Key State Laws That Limit Gun Trafficking

  1. Allows Criminal Penalties for Buying a Gun for Someone Who Can’t (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  2. Allows Criminal Penalties for Buying a Gun With False Information (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  3. Allows Criminal Penalties for Selling a Gun Without a Proper Background Check (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  4. Requires Background Checks for all Handgun Sales at Gun Shows (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  5. Requires Purchase Permit for All Handgun Sales (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  6. Grants Law Enforcement Discretion in Issuing Concealed Carry Permits (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  7. Prohibits Violent Misdemeanor Criminals from Possessing Guns (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  8. Requires Reporting Lost or Stolen Guns to Law Enforcement (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  9. Allows Local Communities to Enact Gun Laws (NOT LAW IN VERMONT)
  10. Allows Inspections of Gun Dealers (Vermont has this one law)

Have stronger gun trafficking laws at the state level worked?

A:

Here is an example of a one-gun-a-month law in Virginia…

Studies show that handguns sold in multiple sales to the same individual purchaser are frequently used in crime.  ATF crime gun trace data revealed that 22 percent of all handguns recovered in crime in 1999 had been transferred to a purchaser involved in a multiple sale.  Crime gun trace data from 2000 showed that 20 percent of all retail handguns recovered in crime were purchased as part of a multiple sale.

One-gun-a-month laws prohibit the purchase of more than one handgun per person in any 30-day period.  A study of Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law showed that the law was effective in reducing the number of crime guns traced to Virginia dealers. Virginia initially adopted its law in 1993 after the state became recognized as a primary source of crime guns recovered in states in the northeastern U.S.  After the law’s adoption, the odds of tracing a gun originally acquired in the Southeast to a Virginia gun dealer (as opposed to a dealer in a different southeastern state) dropped by 71% for guns recovered in New York, 72% for guns recovered in Massachusetts, and 66% for guns recovered in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts combined.


 

Source:

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, YOUTH CRIME GUN INTERDICTION INITIATIVE, CRIME GUN TRACE REPORTS (2000) NATIONAL REPORT 50 (July 2002); ATF, U.S. Dept. of Treasury, YOUTH CRIME GUN INTERDICTION INITIATIVE CRIME GUN TRACE REPORTS (1999) NATIONAL REPORT 40 (Nov. 2000)

Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca Know, EVALUATING THE IMPACT OF VIRGINIA’S ONE-GUN-A-MONTH LAW, The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence 1, 4-6 (Aug. 1995). 

Why do we need safe storage laws?

A:

Twenty-seven states and Washington, D. C., have safe storage laws, so a majority of states have identified and addressed a need. The gun storage law in Florida is associated with 51 percent (or 52 fewer) in children killed by unintentional shootings over an 8-year post-law period. (Webster and Starnes, PEDIATRICS, 2000) Across all 50 states from 1979 to 2000, states with such laws experienced greater declines in youth unintentional firearm death than those without. (Hepburn et al, JOURNAL OF TRAUMA-INJURY INFECTION & CRITICAL CARE, 2006)  Such laws are also associated with 8.3 percent reduction in youth firearm suicide rate in 18 states. (Webster et al, JAMA, 2004.) Sensible gun storage laws don’t punish law-abiding citizens; they encourage safe gun storage practice and save lives, according to Hepburn et al (PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS ANNUAL EXPOSITION, 2006) and Grossman et al (JAMA, 2005).

According to a 2005 JAMA study, safe gun storage lowers the risk of injury and suicide by about 70 percent.  Too, the National Shooting Sports Federation’s Bill Brassard says:  ”Safe storage is absolutely critical to preventing the misuse of firearms.”  Brassard adds that lockable boxes with key pads still allow for quick access.  

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, gun deaths (homicides, suicides and accidents) cause twice as many deaths among young people as cancer; five times as many deaths as heart disease, and 15 times as many deaths as infections.  

Nearly 800 children under the age of 14 were killed in gun accidents from 1999 through 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Moreover, the CDC found that accidental gun death of children under four more than doubled to 25 in 2010.  

Twenty-nine percent of households with children don’t secure guns, according to a 2006 study in ARCHIVES OF PEDIATRICS AND ADOLESCENT MEDICINE, by Harvard’s David Hemenway and others.

The burden of safety responsibility should not be on children when finding a gun in the home.  For example, an experiment with 8 to 12-year-olds in a room with a hidden gun showed that 75 percent of the boys found the gun within 15 minutes.  Only one of 64 youngsters left the room to find an adult.  (The gun was modified so it would not fire.)  Sixty-three percent of the boys handled the gun, 33 percent fired it.  And more than 90 percent of the boys who handled the gun or pulled the trigger said they’d received some sort of gun safety training. Curiosity wins, sad to say.

Here is additional information from PowerPoint Presentation from Harvard Researcher Catherine Berber of “Means Matter” on the research on the lethality methods of suicide. The research overwhelmingly demonstrates that removing easy access to the most common, lethal option for suicide in a culture can substantially reduce suicide rates.


VT Means Matter June 2013 -methods of self-harm(Source: Berber, Catherine. “Why Means Matter: Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means.” Harvard School of Public Health. PowerPoint Presentation Given at the Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium in Killington, VT. June 2013.)

VT Means Matter June 2013 - state variation

(Source: Berber, Catherine. “Why Means Matter: Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means.” Harvard School of Public Health. PowerPoint Presentation Given at the Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium in Killington, VT. June 2013.)

Does Mental Health Data get reported to the background check system?

A:

Not in Vermont. Right now, if someone is found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, this information is not reported to the NICS system. So, the next day that person would be able to go out and buy a gun from the nearest gun shop, since they could pass the background check. Similarly if someone is involuntarily committed, the record of that event is not shared either. These types of events are already considered public information (and don't fall under HIPPA regulations), but information like this is not currently being reported.

Furthermore, the federal government cannot mandate that state agencies report information to the national background check system – based on a Supreme Court ruling from the 1990’s, this mandate must come from the state legislature.

What is the Violent Felon Loophole?

Why does Vermont need to bring state law in line with federal law to prohibit violent felons from possessing weapons?

A:

Vermont is one of only two states in the nation that doesn’t have a law prohibited violent felons from possessing weapons. Because this law is only on the books at the federal level, local law enforcement cannot enforce it themselves and must refer cased to the federal authorities (and frequently those federal authorities do not have the resources to prosecute these cases unless they are coupled with other crimes.)

A further exploration of this issue, can be found in this article from the Rutland Herald from March 2013.

Rutland Herald – March 18, 2013 — “Shumlin Unsure on Enforcing Certain Firearm Laws”http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20130318/NEWS03/703189828

Since the murder of 20 kindergarten students in Newtown, Conn., sparked a nationwide debate over firearms, Gov. Peter Shumlin has been unwavering in his opposition to any new Vermont laws aimed at restricting the rights of gun owners.

“I just think you need a 50-state solution,” Shumlin said at a press conference last Thursday. “That’s not something that I feel any ambiguity about.”

Could a new piece of information change his mind?

At that same press conference, Shumlin was asked whether state and local police should be able to enforce federal gun laws that aren’t codified in Vermont statute. Federal law, for example, prohibits felons from possessing firearms, while state statute is silent on the matter.

“I think it’s up to Vermont law enforcement to enforce the laws,” Shumlin said.

So if a state trooper isn’t authorized to enforce the federal ban on felons possessing firearms, he’d want to do something about it?

“Well, I’d like to know the answer to that. Let’s find out if it’s really true or not,” Shumlin answered.

But if it was true that state troopers, city police and local sheriffs aren’t allowed to remove firearms from the possession of felons, Shumlin was asked, then he’d want to see that changed?

“Let me get the information. I don’t have it,” Shumlin said. “I tell you when I don’t know what I’m talking about. I plead guilty.”

As it turns out, state and local law enforcement officers aren’t authorized to enforce that federal statute. Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn said Thursday the federal provision is outside the jurisdiction of Vermont police.

There are lots of federal laws with state-based equivalents. The reason is so that Vermont cops can enforce the same things the feds have criminalized.

A group of House lawmakers thinks the state should join with the feds in prohibiting felons from carrying firearms. Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, an Essex Democrat, said she introduced gun legislation containing that provision in part because of conversations with law-enforcement officers who expressed frustration about not being able to remove guns from the possession of the felons carrying them.

Flynn said his officers do have some recourse when they encounter felons violating the federal ban on gun possession.

“Because we don’t have an arrest power for that, it would be something we make a referral to ATF on,” Flynn said.

Capt. Glenn Hall, head of the Vermont Drug Task Force, said it’s a judgment call on whether to make the referral or not.

“Some of the considerations are: Does the person have a history? What are the felonies they’ve been convicted of? How long ago?” Hall said.

In instances where the state does make the referral, Flynn and Hall said, sometimes the ATF follows up with an investigation, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So would Flynn like to see lawmakers add the ban on felon gun possession to Vermont law?

“In some instances it would be beneficial, because it would allow us not to have to go through the feds,” Flynn said.

But he said it isn’t so cut and dried.

“That’s one of the those things where I think it would require much broader discussion with the Legislature as to whether that’s something they want to do. There are a lot of competing interests in that,” Flynn said. “Because you have to look at the types of crimes that brings in, and some of them are nonviolent, like someone convicted 20 years ago of passing a bad check, or false pretense, and that qualifies as a felony. And it may give pause to think, would it serve justice better to prohibit that person to be in possession of a firearm for the rest of their life?”

Shumlin has repeatedly stated his blanket opposition to Waite-Simpson’s bill, or any or other gun control legislation in Montpelier. However, that was before he knew his state troopers can’t pry firearms from the hands of convicted felons. 

We have yet to hear whether the new information has altered the Governor’s position. 


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