MONTPELIER —Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Tuesday about a gun control bill that would do multiple things if passed into law, including closing the “Charleston loophole” and requiring those with relief from abuse orders to give up their guns.
The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing at the State House on H.610, a bill focused on domestic violence introduced by Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Washington, and Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-Chittenden. The bill would eliminate the so-called “Charleston loophole” which allows a gun dealer to transfer a gun to someone before a background check is complete. The loophole got its name because it was used by Dylann Roof who got a gun and killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 despite not being permitted to have a gun due to his arrest record.
It would not allow those with relief from abuse orders against them to possess guns, making it a crime to do so, and would allow a judge to issue a warrant for seizure of any guns that are believed to be in that person’s possession. The bill would also allow health care providers to contact law enforcement if they believe a patient poses “an extreme risk of causing harm to himself or herself or another person by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a dangerous weapon or by having a dangerous weapon.”
Rodney Chayer talked about what it’s like to be a father going through the court system. Chayer said fathers are treated as a doormat, a money bag to steal from and a second-class parent instead of an equal to the mother. He said he can understand why some fathers are reactive instead of proactive.
“You poke any animal long enough, it will bite you,” he said.
Chayer said if this bill passes anyone would be able to accuse another in anger or revenge in an attempt to get their guns removed. He said a mother could make false allegations against the father, robbing the child of the bond formed when the two go hunting.
Ben Hewitt said he’s a gun owner and a hunter. Hewitt said his two sons hunt as well and between them they own 11 guns.
He said most proposed gun legislation measures are “at best feel-good Band-Aids on gaping societal wounds.” But he supports H.610 because last month one of his son’s best friends shot and killed himself.
“That morning, he had filled the tank of his truck with gas. Earlier that afternoon he had texted his mother asking her to buy him a new toothbrush. By all accounts and indications, his suicide was an impulsive decision,” he said.
Birgit Matthiesen is a board member of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Matthiesen said the bill has her strong and urgent support.
“I have seen domestic violence up close and very personal. I am a child of a family of domestic violence and I am a survivor. I have seen and I have felt the red hot rage of the moment of violence. I have seen and I have felt the terror of those violent hours,” she said.
Bob Readie said the bill was one of the worst he’s read. He said it would violate due process, individual rights, property rights and civil liberties.
“This is horrible. Horrible,” he said. “What about constitutional rights? Where does it say in the Vermont Constitution that you have the authority or the power to deny those rights?”
Peggy O’Neil is the executive director of WISE, which serve victims of domestic and sexual violence in northern Windsor County. O’Neil talked about a murder in her community that took place several years ago. She didn’t give many specifics, but said a woman, who was a mother two a 2-year-old, was shot and killed by her boyfriend. She said the victim had been threatened previously with a gun.
O’Neil then told another story about a woman who was with a partner who slept with a gun under his pillow. Not for protection, but to induce fear and maintain control, she said. O’Neil said the woman was able to get a relief from abuse order, to get his guns taken away and had a strong support system.
“While we’ll never know if removing his guns kept her from being killed or injured, what I keep thinking about over and over these last 25-plus years and in this work for nearly 17 years is that if his guns had not been removed that night, I might not be here with you tonight to ask for your support. This young woman was me,” she said.
Tabitha Armstrong talked about statistics in cases of homicide where domestic violence was involved. Armstrong said between 1994 and 2017, there were 148 such cases. Of those she said 82 involved a gun and 34 of the deaths where were the abuser killed themselves or were killed by police.
She said that left 48 deaths in a 23-year period. She pointed out that’s the same amount of homicides over the same amount of time due to stabbing, strangling or blunt force trauma.
She asked, “So are we to believe expanded red flag laws are going to stop an abuser from murdering a victim? How is that when just as many use their hands?”
Kate Root is a member of Courtney’s Allies, a group that formed in Barre after Courtney Gaboriault was shot and killed by a former partner in a murder-suicide in 2018. Root said relief from abuse orders are not obtained lightly or easily. She said the argument that the bill would eliminate due process was false.
She brought up the expression “bringing a gun to a knife fight” to highlight the danger of guns.
“Anytime a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, the likelihood of death resulting increases dramatically. And this is a material fact. Guns are manufactured objects that can be replaced. Courtney’s life and the lives of all other domestic violence victims can never be replaced,” she said.
James Sexton said legislators are experts at using fear instead of logic to pass bills into law, such as calling guns “scary assault weapons.” “ Sexton said no weapon, tool or implement of any type is capable of creating an assault.
He then talked about how his wife was hit by a drunk driver in December while she was using a snowblower in the front yard.
“It wasn’t an assault car. It wasn’t assault alcohol. It was the driver that created the assault,” he said.
Most of the hearing saw those for and against the bill taking turns giving their thoughts on the bill. But towards the end only those in favor of the bill spoke. It’s unclear if there were opponents of the bill who were in attendance and wanted to speak, but were not called on.
A request for comment from the committee was not returned Wednesday.