Time to act on gun bills stalled in the Legislature

By Mike Yantachka

It was only after the senseless massacre of 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla., last week that I heard it reported that 17 other school shootings took place in just the first seven weeks of 2018. Subsequent reports corrected that number to seven — still too many.

Nevertheless, how could I have not known that there was an average of one a week? Has it become so common that we don’t even notice?

Once again we hear public officials offer condolences, thoughts and prayers, sincerely I’m sure, for the victims and their families and their friends. Yet these expressions of empathy are just platitudes without a commitment to act to prevent these tragedies. Over and over and over again, even after the worst mass killing last fall in Las Vegas, no action at all on any federal or state level has been taken to do anything about this cancer affecting our country.

We’re told that it’s “too soon” to talk about solutions. We’re told that we “shouldn’t politicize tragedy.” So, what happens? Nothing!

The Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms. But with rights come responsibilities. What kinds of arms are appropriate for private ownership? In this gun-worshipping culture we have, it seems that no one at the federal or state level is willing to take the responsibility to keep weapons designed for military use in war out of the public domain. The AR-15, the weapon of choice for mass murder in the U.S., is one such weapon.

Since the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 there have been at least 16 school shootings that can be classified as mass shootings, events in which four or more people are shot.

Since that time, more than 150,000 people were victims of gun violence in the U.S. During the same period, 14 bills were introduced in the Vermont Legislature to set common-sense regulations for firearms. With some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, only minor changes have been made in the last six years in Vermont.

Last year the House passed a bill that would allow police to temporarily confiscate guns from a household when responding to a domestic violence incident. This would offer some protection for domestic violence victims during a critical period in a bad situation. That bill sits in the Senate, waiting for action. As usual, a very vocal minority of gun owners turned out in force at a Senate hearing to oppose it.

I am willing to acknowledge that we have a lower level of gun violence in Vermont than elsewhere. However, looking at the characteristics of mass shootings, it can happen here. It’s only a matter of time. We are fortunate that a potential school shooting in Vermont was thwarted just days ago due to swift law-enforcement action as a result of a report by a concerned citizen of the threat seen on social media.

It’s time we took action in Vermont on the bills currently under consideration to protect domestic violence victims (H.422), to ban “bump stocks” (H.876), and to require background checks for the sale or transfer of firearms (H.151, S.6). This will only happen, however, if good people demand it by calling their legislators in the House and Senate with the same sense of purpose as those who oppose regulation.

Failure to speak up equals complicity when a similar tragedy occurs in the future on Vermont soil.

Democrat Mike Yantachka represents Charlotte in the Vermont House of Representatives.

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