Op-Ed: Striking a balance between freedoms and a need for safety

by State Rep. Kate Webb

Last week, Vermont witnessed the signing of three historic bills related to firearm safety.

One bill provides extreme risk protection orders to reduce gun-related murder or suicide. A second gives added protection to victims of domestic violence. The third and most controversial increases gun safety provisions related to background checks, bump stocks, magazine capacity and safety training requirements.

As House Speaker Mitzi Johnson noted, the bills were designed to strike a balance between individual freedoms provided by our state and federal constitutions, and the need for laws to protect the rights and safety of others.

“That tension,” she said, “between liberty and justice — or, as we say in Vermont, ‘Freedom and Unity’ — was at the very core of this discussion.”

Whether you agree or disagree with the governor’s actions, it is hard not to see it as a courageous act. As elected officials, we must balance the wishes and requests of our constituents with evidence before us that stands in conflict with those wishes. I believe the governor did just that. Facing a sea of pro and con supporters, the governor and legislative leaders stood together in support of these new laws. I stood with them.

While a focus on firearms is a necessary condition for safety, it is not sufficient. To that end, several bills before the Legislature will look at some of those issues.

One bill would help schools increase safety and security measures. Another adds psychiatric beds for those in mental health crisis held up in emergency rooms. Another provides prevention and early intervention for children growing up with toxic stress so severe it is interfering with learning and ability to build healthy relationships.

A resolution addresses the influence of violent video games and movies on children.

As we move toward the close of the legislative session, it is these preventive measures that have my attention. Who knows? Sitting in our schools right now is someone who could grow up to support your business, or rob it; build your house, or burn it down; save your life, or take it.

Investments in our young people may be the single best use of our public dollars to prevent gun violence. It just takes a long time to measure it.

Rep. Kate Webb, a Democrat, represents Shelburne and St. George in the Vermont House of Representatives.

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