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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

24-Hour Handgun Waiting Period Clears Vermont House

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 10:04 PM

Alyssa and Rob Black testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February - FILE: TAYLOR DOBBS
  • File: Taylor Dobbs
  • Alyssa and Rob Black testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February
The Vermont House advanced legislation late Wednesday evening that would mandate a 24-hour waiting period before all handgun purchases in the state.

The House backed the bill by a vote of 82 to 58 — enough to secure passage, but not enough to override a possible veto by Gov. Phil Scott, who has expressed general opposition to new gun laws. Such an override would require 100 votes in the 150-member House.

Rob and Alyssa Black of Essex, whose 23-year-old son Andrew killed himself with a handgun last December just hours after purchasing it, watched the lengthy debate stoically from the rear of the House chamber. Afterward, they hugged supporters and expressed relief and appreciation to legislators.

"It was a hard decision, but it was the right decision," Rob Black said of those who backed the bill.

“We believe that Gov. Scott has shown time and time again that he’s willing to make courageous decisions,” Alyssa Black said, expressing optimism that he might sign it. “I would hope he would show that again.”

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Vermont House to Vote on 24-Hour Handgun Waiting Period

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2019 at 3:57 PM

Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition testifies before the House Judiciary Committee Monday. - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition testifies before the House Judiciary Committee Monday.

Updated at 6:20 p.m.

A key Vermont House committee voted 7-4 on Monday in favor of legislation that would require a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases in the state. The bill, S.169, had been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee for weeks, its fate uncertain — but now it's headed for the House floor in the waning days of the legislative session.

Rep. Barbara Rachelson (D-Burlington) backed the bill Monday, explaining, "There are places where it takes longer to adopt a pet from the humane society."

Her colleague on the committee, Rep. Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland), opposed the legislation, but he stressed that it could have included more onerous restrictions on gun owners. "I’m not thrilled about it, but it’s probably the best deal that firearms owners can get,” Burditt said.

If the full House approves the legislation as written, it would go straight to Gov. Phil Scott for signature, because the Senate has already passed an identical version. Scott has not specifically stated whether he would sign or veto the bill, but he has expressed general opposition to new gun laws.

“The governor has said he needs to review the bill once it’s finalized,” Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley said.

A vote later this week on the House floor should make clear whether supporters have enough votes — two-thirds of the 150-member chamber — to override a potential veto. The Senate's 20-10 vote in March suggested that it had the votes for an override.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

One Dead After Shootout in Burlington's Old North End

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 7:37 PM

Police interview witnesses on North Willard Street. - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Police interview witnesses on North Willard Street.
A 23-year-old man was killed and another man was injured during a Tuesday afternoon shootout in Burlington's Old North End.

The two men shot each other in the driveway of a North Willard Street home, police said in a press release. Benzel Hampton was shot in the head and died. The other man, whom Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo did not identify, was also shot but is expected to survive.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Vermont Senate Backs 24-Hour Waiting Period for Gun Sales

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 6:13 PM

Sen. John Rodgers - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Sen. John Rodgers

The Vermont Senate on Thursday advanced legislation that would impose a 24-hour waiting period on those purchasing handguns. The preliminary vote came despite opposition from gun-rights supporters, who claimed the bill would infringe upon their rights, and from those who said the restrictions weren't strict enough.

The 20-10 vote suggested that supporters in the Senate would be able to override a potential veto from Gov. Phil Scott, who has expressed opposition to new gun laws. The measure is expected to face a final vote in the Senate on Friday and would then move to the Vermont House.

All six Senate Republicans opposed the bill, as did Sens. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle), Alice Nitka (D-Windsor), John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) and Bobby Starr (D-Essex/Orleans).

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), said he was proud that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, found middle ground between the two divergent positions. “I hope folks won’t be put off by the word compromise, because if we’ve come to that, we’re in deep trouble,” Sears said.

Sears, who had previously opposed the measure, said he learned from experts who testified before his committee that suicide attempts with guns are far more successful than by other means, and that those who make such attempts usually do so impulsively.

“The vast majority of the people who decide to commit suicide [do so] based on an impulse, and that decision was made within eight hours,” he said.

If enacted, the law would require gun buyers to wait a day after undergoing a federal criminal background check before taking possession of a firearm.

After the vote, the family of Andrew Black released a statement supporting the Senate's move. The 23-year-old Essex man shot and killed himself in December, hours after buying a gun.

"If this handgun purchase waiting period was the law last year I know it likely would have saved our son’s life,” Alyssa Black wrote. “I sincerely hope that this effort will save other families from experiencing the heartbreak we are going through."

Leading the opposition was Sen. Rodgers, who argued that those who commit mass shootings or suicide are often more influenced by social media than by gun access. “I believe the internet is much more dangerous than firearms are,” Rodgers said.

Similarly, far more teenagers are killed texting while driving than from guns, he said, and yet there is no rush to take phones away from them. He did not mention that lawmakers recently toughened laws against texting while driving.

The Senate rejected an amendment Rodgers offered that would have limited the waiting period to new gun owners. It did approve other suggestions he made, including allowing law enforcement officers from other states and those competing in organized shooting events to possess high-capacity magazines. He said the Second Amendment should not just be viewed as a right for sportsmen.

“It’s about protecting oneself, one’s community, one’s state, one’s country,” Rodgers said.

The Northeast Kingdom Democrat got some backup from Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), who argued that he wouldn’t support a waiting period on a woman’s right to choose, nor would he support one on when newspaper reporters could file their stories.

Benning argued that, while suicides are tragic, there is no evidence that a waiting period would really work. “But make no mistake, it is an impediment placed in the path of someone who would choose to exercise their right to self-defense,” he said.

Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) said she was disappointed that the bill didn’t impose stricter rules. She grew up in and lives in a rural area and supports firearms for hunting and sport, she said, but is keenly aware of the dangers they present.

“I also know that guns pose a significant public health, domestic violence and public safety threat,” she said.

The mother of three school-aged children said she knows firsthand the impact gun violence — especially school shootings — is having on children today. “Our children are stressed and scared, and they have been demanding that we do something,” Hardy said.

She said she considered 24 hours too short of a waiting period, noting that many states require waits of a week or more. She also lamented the limitation to handguns, noting that someone could just as easily kill himself, herself or others with a rifle. She said she would support the bill out of the spirit of compromise Sears expressed.

“More change will come and I will be here in this chamber to help make it happen,” she said.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Bill to Create Waiting Period for Gun Sales Advances in Senate

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 12:12 PM

Sen. Dick Sears speaks as Sen. John Rodgers, in back, looks on - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Sen. Dick Sears speaks as Sen. John Rodgers, in back, looks on
Updated at 2:08 p.m.

After a bitter debate Friday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly approved a compromise bill proposed by Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) that would require a 24-hour waiting period for handgun sales in Vermont.

The measure is a scaled-back version of a bill introduced by Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), who wanted a 48-hour waiting period for all gun sales. His proposal had support from the family of 23-year-old Andrew Black, an Essex man who shot and killed himself in December, hours after purchasing a gun.

Baruth, who sits on the five-member Judiciary Committee, was unable to find two allies for his proposal. Instead, he signed on to Sears' compromise, which still needed support from one more committee member in order to pass.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Gun Purchase Waiting Period Bill Faces Key Vote Friday

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 4:37 PM

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden)
A proposal to mandate waiting periods for gun purchases in Vermont faces an uncertain fate ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee vote Friday.

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) sponsored the measure and is for it, while Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) plans to vote no. That leaves three Democrats — Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor) and Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) — who have yet to state their positions on the legislation.

The votes of two undecideds will sway the outcome.

Baruth, who advocated for universal background checks for years before that policy became law in 2018, said he’s "not hard-selling anybody" on the bill.

“They’re going to look at the evidence and make up their minds, and we need two other votes,” Baruth said, adding that he believes the evidence clearly shows that waiting periods for gun sales could save lives. A second part of the bill would require guns to be safely locked up when not in the control of their owner.

White and Sears each said Thursday that they hadn't decided whether they will support the bill. Nitka said she'd made up her mind but wouldn't tip her hand to Seven Days. "I’m not telling you where I’m at," she said.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Essex Parents Say Gun Waiting Period Would Have Saved Their Son

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 3:37 PM

Alyssa and Rob Black testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Alyssa and Rob Black testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Less than five hours after he purchased a handgun last December, Andrew Black had died by suicide, his parents told the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

In emotional testimony, Alyssa Black said that her 23-year-old son had appeared normal to clerks who had sold him a cup of coffee, a turkey sandwich, a Pepsi and a gun. In fact, she said, he’d been in the midst of a “fleeting, two-day-long self-pity fest” sparked by a social media post.

If only Andrew had been required to wait a certain period before buying the gun, father Rob Black told the committee, he would still be alive today.

The Essex family came to the Statehouse to advocate for legislation sponsored by Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) that would require gun buyers to wait 48 hours between passing a background check and taking possession of a firearm. The bill would also require guns to be locked up when not in use.

In the months since they called for such a waiting period in Andrew’s obituary, the Essex family has been piecing together the final hours of his life, using social media history, receipts, background check information and recordings he made on his phone.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Walters: Baruth to Propose Waiting Period for Gun Purchases

Posted By on Wed, Dec 12, 2018 at 7:32 PM

Sen. Phil Baruth - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Phil Baruth
In the wake of a young Vermonter's suicide, Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) said he will introduce a package of gun safety measures in the 2019 legislative session that includes a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before purchasing a firearm.

Baruth announced his intention on Facebook Wednesday, and he referred to the death of 23-year-old Andrew Black, an Essex resident who died in his home on December 6. Black's mother, Alyssa Hughes Black, told WPTZ-TV that her son bought a gun late that morning and shot himself within a few hours.

In Black's obituary, his parents urged people to "work for legislation that imposes a reasonable waiting period between firearm purchase and possession to provide a cooling off period to guard against impulsive acts of violence."

California, Illinois and Rhode Island are among the states that have established waiting periods in law.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Parkland Students to Bring 'Glimmer of Hope' to Burlington

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2018 at 8:56 PM

  • Courtesy photos
Alex Wind prefers not to discuss the details of the shooting that killed 17 people at his high school in Parkland, Fla., in February.

The 17-year-old senior survived the horrific day. On Friday, he will appear with two fellow students in Burlington to promote their book, "Glimmer of Hope," and the March for Our Lives campaign to stop gun violence.

"This is something that is going to be plaguing us our entire lives," Wind said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "But it comes to a point where we have to say, what’s now is now, and we need to be focused on that.”

Last winter, a young gunman sprayed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with bullets. Former student Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of murder.

The 6 p.m. stop on the Glimmer of Hope tour will take place at the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Burlington. Tickets sold out Sunday. Phoenix Books is sponsoring the event.

Wind will appear with two other students from the school: David Hogg and Emma González. They will participate in a moderated question-and-answer session and will sign books.

Some of the student activists have left the school to tour the country and advocate for gun safety measures. They are urging young people to register to vote and use the democratic process for change.

Friday's appearance will be Wind's first on the Glimmer tour. He still attends the school. "It's completely changed the entire atmosphere, the entire landscape," Wind said. "There's not a specific thing to point out. It's just the looming feeling."

Wind did not know Cruz, and didn't want to speculate on his motive — or even think about him. "No one is focused on him," Wind said. "We don’t want to be concerned about him and his face, because he is someone that caused harm and we don’t like to talk about him."

The campaign's goals include voter registration, a federal universal background check for gun purchases, a ban on semiautomatic assault rifles, and more funding to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

It's not a partisan effort, Wind said. "We can all come together and agree on one thing — that this country needs change."

The book's title is not an accident, he added. "The glimmer of hope is the young people, the people who are going to the polls next, the people who are going to the polls now. We don’t like the way things are happening and we're going to change them."

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Montréal Man Gets Four Years for Smuggling Guns Through Library

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 12:55 PM

Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Derby Line - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Derby Line
A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a Montréal man to more than four years in prison for smuggling 100 firearms through a bathroom in the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the international border in Derby Line.

Alexis Vlachos, a career criminal who pronounced himself a reformed man during a U.S. District Court hearing, will likely be released from prison in the coming weeks after receiving credit for time served and good behavior. He plans to work at his father's restaurant, lawyers said.

Vlachos, 41, led a three-man operation that bought 100 handguns from licensed dealers in Florida. In March 2011, the coconspirators traveled to Vermont and left several firearms in the library, which is famously bisected by the international border.

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