Support for gun control bill to prevent suicides

When I campaigned for this job last summer, I was really clear about my position on firearms, and it remains the same. First: I don’t want to take anyone’s guns away. I don’t want to prevent people who are allowed to have guns from getting them, and I certainly don’t want to compromise anyone’s second amendment rights. I’m not a gun person, so last fall a friend took me to Laberge’s shooting range in Charlotte to show me what’s up.

Rep. Chea Waters Evans
Rep. Chea Waters Evans

I had fun. It’s true. I was scared of the gun, I was scared to shoot it, I was scared I might accidentally freak out and shoot someone else. But I had an excellent, patient teacher, and he was really focused on safety and proper protocol.

All this is to say, I’m all for the guns. And this is to also say that I’m going to support H.230, a bill coming out of the house this week, that came out of the House Judiciary Committee as a suicide prevention bill. Suicide deaths by firearms make up almost 60 percent of Vermont suicides each year. Our suicide rate is 50 percent higher than the national average. Other suicide methods have a completion rate of about 4 percent; when a firearm is involved, that number skyrockets to almost 100 percent.

Of course, there are miles to go before this becomes a law, and I’m sure there will be changes and amendments offered as it goes through, but here are the major points it contains this week.

Safe storage is required for firearms. This means that ammunition is stored separately from the firearm. Firearms must be kept in a locked, tamper-resistant container.

Safe storage means that firearms must be securely stored in a place where a child, or person prohibited from using firearms, can’t access them. This doesn’t include situations where the firearm is accessed illegally, like through a break-in. It also doesn’t include situations where a person is legally allowed to carry or keep a firearm in close proximity, or when a person uses the weapon in self-defense.

Penalties for violating the laws can be imprisonment of not more than a year, and/or fines not more than $1,000 if a child or prohibited person gets access to an improperly stored firearm and uses it in a crime or displays it in a threatening way. If death or serious bodily injury results, the penalties could include imprisonment up to five years and/or fines up to $5,000.

The state’s attorney will have discretion to file charges if the parent or guardian of a child who allegedly violates the law gains access to a firearm that is used in an unintentional or self-inflicted shooting that causes death or bodily injury to the child.

Signs will be required at licensed dealer locations where firearms are sold or transferred; there’s specific language that must be included.

The bill also creates an opportunity to allow family or household members to initiate the process for obtaining an extreme risk protection order by directly petitioning the court. An extreme risk protection order is a civil order that temporarily prohibits individuals who pose a danger of injury to self (including suicide) or others from purchasing, possessing or receiving any dangerous weapons, including firearms. Right now, only a state’s attorney or the office of the attorney general may file an extreme risk protection order petition.

While it’s important to give everyone due process, it’s also to protect people who might harm themselves and others. The bill would make the process for obtaining an extreme risk protection order easier and more accessible for people who know the individual at risk the best — their family and household members. (Interesting aside: I learned last week that the term “household member” includes a person who someone has dated or had a romantic relationship with.)

The bill also adds a 72-hour waiting period for firearms transfers. I know this isn’t a popular idea for many, and I understand the argument that it’s a constitutional right that we can bear arms. In my opinion, that right doesn’t necessarily extend to the right to bear arms immediately as soon as you want them. The waiting period requires that a person can’t transfer a firearm to another person until 72 hours afwter a licensed dealer is provided with a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) transfer identification number, or seven business days have passed since the dealer contacted NICS to initiate the background check, whichever occurs first.w

It’s really important to me to maintain and protect Constitutional rights and the Second Amendment; it’s also critical to recognize that there are ways to do that while curbing gun violence and protecting those who would harm themselves or others, and those to which they might do harm.

As always: I welcome comment, questions and communication at my cell phone number, by text or call, at 917-887-8231 or email.