Gun control group says it’s ‘step in the right direction’
By Guy Page
S30, sponsored by Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) and others, passed the Senate last year. Thursday was its first hearing in the House. At least two healthcare professionals testified in favor of the bill. One said the legislation would make employees feel safer when angry outbursts occur among family members facing life-and-death situations.
However, Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs President Chris Bradley said existing state law already gives hospitals all the authority they need to deny entry to and remove anyone they choose – including those bearing firearms.
State law prohibiting unlawful trespass covers the situations raised by S. 30 supporters, including Baruth, who has claimed hospitals need S30 because no state law lets them deny entry to a gun-toting person.
“13 VSA [Vermont Statutes Annotated] 3705, which is unlawful trespass….handles the exact situation described by the lead sponsor,” Bradley said. “In fact that statute is already in use not only at hospitals but also at other locations across the state of Vermont.”
Bradley also reminded the House committee of Defender General Matt Valerio’s cautionary testimony to the Senate: legislatures sometimes “pass bills that in and of themselves aren’t going to have a major effect on anything, and this might be one of those times.”
Conor Casey, a Montpelier City Councilor and former Vermont Democratic Party elected official who is now executive director of the gun-control organization Gun Sense, testified that S30 is “a step in the right direction” and “a good step forward.” His group also wants guns prohibited in government buildings and daycares, and demands 72-hour waiting period and background checks. “Really we need to require that firearms not be sold until a background check is completed,” he said.
Before addressing the details of the bill, Vermont Traditions Coalition Firearms Policy Analyst William Moore warned the lawmakers of the dangers posed to the legislative process by meeting via Zoom.
“Complicated policy issues and other social policy questions that are not truly emergencies or truly responding at least to an immediate problem should be held off until the building is open, or at least a strongly hybrid physical presence,” Moore said. “My main concern has been repeatedly [that] citizens may appear to have access but this is a one-way window. It’s not the same.
“I’ve come to the conclusion just recently that the largest deficit of this remote session activity for any bill, whether it’s complex policy like questions of psychiatrists reporting patients’ threats, or simple things like dictating signage at hospitals, is the interpersonal and the interaction between legislators themselves. My dime pays you, and my vote elects you, to interact with each other…. interaction between each other is the act of legislating. And you are not able to do that . So I consider this whole process less than legitimate.”
Moore’s use of the “L” word prompted chair Maxine Grad to seek an explanation.
“Excuse me, can you um explain what you mean that this process is less than legitimate?” she asked Moore.
“Well I think I just did,” Moore said. “I think the biggest deficit problem is is your ability as legislators interacting with each other…. unless you reach out through email or phone calls, you’re just not in the building.”
After giving examples of in-building personal contact based on his 35 years’ experience in the State House, Moore concluded, “I will never accept that this is a legitimate process for true legislating in a citizen legislature. This is not human scale democracy.”
I will participate without objection,” he added.
Moore then drew on his work experience as a former hospital security guard to show that the threat of gun possession in a hospital is, in practice, well-anticipated and very uncommon.
“Hospitals have a variety of security processes and contingency plans,” Moore said. “Certainly if a person comes in and has a gun on their hip when the jacket opens, they ask them to put it in the car.”
I’ve asked around, and in the 15 months since this bill was proposed, there have been zero events that we’re aware of, in police reports, of anything getting beyond, ‘oh you’re not allowed to have a gun in here, please put it back in your car.’ So as was the case before the bill was proposed, there is no problem, but there is a statutory and criminal process in place already to deal with it that works quite adequately.”