By Guy Page
Maternal grief and a “the courts will decide” approach to potential U.S. Supreme Court violations set the tone for yesterday’s House vote approving a gun control bill.
Mandated gun storage and a 72-hour-waiting period after passing a federal background check will help reduce Vermont’s growing suicide numbers, Rep. Allysa Black (D-Westford) claimed yesterday minutes before the House gave initial approval to its 2023 gun control bill.
Black made an emotionally-charged, first-person appeal to her House colleagues during a lengthy floor speech yesterday afternoon in support of H230, the suicide prevention/gun control bill. Following testimony, the House voted by a 2-1 margin to approve the bill.
Black described how she believes her adult son took his own life in 2018. Listen here on the House YouTube video:
“I see the scene that is played out in my head thousands of times. I see a 23 year old young man who had his whole life ahead of him. I can see him closing his door and locking it. And laying his head down on his pillow on his left side. I watch him pulling his Vermont Flannel stadium blanket up over his head. I like to think maybe he did that because he didn’t want his mom to have to clean his brain matter off his walls.
“I watch his hands, his long thin fingers, the first thing I noticed about him when they laid him on my breast 23 years before. And I wonder if his hands were shaking, or whether he was calm and steady. I can see him taking that brand new 9mm Sig Sauer that he had bought three hours before. I can see him put it right here [pointing her finger at her head], right behind his right ear, and pull that trigger. He died instantly. Thank God for that.
“Every single number on that chart has a story. They were loved. And the ones who were left behind will never be the same again……We cannot make that chart disappear….we cannot completely eliminate sucide. But we can do better than what we’ve done.
“People asked themslves over and over, ‘why, why, why.’ Often they’ll never get an answer to the why. But they do know how. And that’s what H230 does. These are very small measures we can take to mitigate the how and save lives.”
After Black concluded, Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington), House Judiciary Committee chair, rose to report that his committee took testimony both pro and con on the bill’s constitutionality. “Ultimately, courts will have the final say on whether the provisions are constititional. ….At this time, it is not clear on how courts binding on Vermont will rule, and it may not be clear for a while,” lawyers for the House testified, LaLonde said.
At issue during much of the floor discussion was a mandated gun storage/trigger lock provision that appears to contradict the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court Heller ruling.
LaLonde then repeated his claim about strong testimony and the courts having the final say. He later quoted other parts of Heller appearing to allow some gun storage.
After stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided the Constitution’s Second Amendment prevents a mandate on trigger locks, Rep. Pat Brennan urged that section be struck from the bill.
“I take that oath in January…to uphold the Constitution. This is putting us in a very tough position to vote against the U.S. Constitution.” Brennan asked the body to read the Heller decision. “It’s never been challenged in any state of the union for 14 years.”
“I believe that these provisions are constitutional,” LaLonde repeated. “In the end, the courts will have the final say.” He then said the D.C. law struck down by Heller is different than H230.
When interrogated by Rep. Jarrod Sammis (R-Castleton) if he has read Section 3 in Heller banning lock mandates, LaLonde answered: “I am aware of that. But there is always a danger in just reading one small part of a case,” LaLonde said.
One House member objected to the objections based on possible Supreme Court rulings. “Trying to interpret what the courts would or wouldn’t do is inappropriate,” Rep. John Bartholomew (D-Hartland) said. House Speaker Jill Krowinski upheld his objection.
In further floor discussion, Rep. Anne Donahue – who said attempted suicide by car accident in the 1990’s – said small states show a far smaller connection between suicide and gun access than in larger states. She also pointed to states with strong mental health services seeing less suicide.
She isn’t a gun owner. “Why would I not support gun restrictions?,” Donahue asked rhetorically. “I don’t support bills based on false promises, where there is a disconnect with the problem and what is promised as a solution.”
I go back to my fundamental strongest values,” Donahue concluded. “Regardless of the subject, upholding the Constitution is one of my critical values. This is not a Constitutional bill, and I can’t support that, even if it was something that could make a difference.”