The leadership of GunSense Vermont joins thoughtful people everywhere who are appalled by the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot and killed two men and injured a third during a protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin in 2020. Despite claims that firearms improve individuals' safety, it is clear that just the opposite happened in Kenosha. If Rittenhouse hadn't brought a military grade weapon to a protest, people would have been safer.
Unfortunately, Vermont law is lax when it comes to carrying guns in public and shooting in purported self-defense. We cannot wait for a similar incident to unfold here at home; we must ask ourselves and our lawmakers some tough questions:
- Do “stand your ground” laws protect people or cause more vigilantism and death? An analysis by the RAND Corporation points to an INCREASE in gun deaths and injuries in states with stand your ground laws. Additionally, stand your ground laws are enforced inequitably, resulting in the acquittal of far more white defendants than BIPOC defendants. Vermont must resist the kind of “stand your ground” law adopted by our neighbor New Hampshire in 2020.
- Does permitted age of purchase matter? Teenagers famously rely on the part of their brain that mediates fear and gut reactions, rather than the part that controls impulse. Rittenhouse’s immaturity was likely a factor in his deadly response that night. In 2018, GunSenseVT actively promoted new legislation that set the general age of purchase in Vermont at 21 years.
- What happens when there are loopholes in the background check system? Rittenhouse was underage in Wisconsin (legal age of purchase 18) when his friend bought the semi-automatic rifle for him, an illegal bypass of the background check system referred to as a “straw purchase.” While Vermont strengthened background checks in 2018, we have not effectively closed the straw purchase loophole.
- Is there adult liability for failing to store firearms safely away from underage persons? The parent of the friend who had straw-purchased Rittenhouse’s gun initially had stored the weapon properly, but later removed it from a safe, giving access to Rittenhouse. As of now, there are no legal consequences in Vermont for adults who fail to store their guns safely. GunSenseVT works for safe storage laws which helps lower numbers of unintended shootings and suicides.
- Does carrying guns in public increase public safety? On the contrary, research points to an increase of intimidation, violence, police confusion, and fatalities in states with weak public carry laws. A challenge to an existing New York state gun permitting law has been taken to the Supreme Court. GunsenseVT is watching closely as this important ability of states to monitor the possession of deadly weapons within their borders is under threat. The decision will have an immense impact across the nation.
The verdict in the Rittenhouse trial sets a dangerous precedent, one which we must take seriously so that Vermont does not follow suit. What happens within each state MATTERS! Vermont can do much better.