Four representatives made emotional pleas to colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee Monday morning as they testified in favor of gun safety proposals, including magazine capacity limits, waiting periods for gun sales and mandatory safe storage of firearms.
Despite the testimony and his own support for some kind of safe storage policy in Vermont, Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington) withdrew a proposal he'd made last week that would require guns to be locked up when the owner isn't in direct control of the weapon.
“It’s a little too broad,” LaLonde told the House committee Monday, noting that he wants to keep guns away from children and teens who shouldn’t have them but couldn’t find a policy that wouldn’t unduly limit home defense.
LaLonde's proposal to limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds remains in the bill. Among the proposal's supporters is Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill, who wrote the committee a letter encouraging its passage. The proposal would prohibit selling, buying or otherwise transferring the ownership of a high-capacity magazine. Such magazines owned before the passage of the bill would be legal.
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the magazine capacity limit and the underlying bill, S.55, this week.
Four representatives not serving on the Judiciary Committee thanked chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) and the rest of the committee for their work on the bill, which would raise Vermont's purchasing age for guns to 21 and make background checks mandatory for all gun sales.
All four — Rep. Lori Houghton (D-Essex Junction), Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford), Rep. Amy Sheldon (D-Middlebury) and Rep. Jessica Brumsted (D-Shelburne) — encouraged the House Judiciary committee to include the additional gun-safety provisions to the bill.
Brumsted paused multiple times to wipe tears and collect herself as she described her experience raising children in Vermont. She said that after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, she spent two years advocating and fundraising with the local parent-teacher organization in Shelburne to start a policy of locking school doors during the day.
“We have a national problem that we can no longer ignore,” Brumsted said, adding that her sixth-grade son has grown up in the age of mass shootings. Through tears, she talked about an idea he came home with one day recently.
“He wondered if, for a school project, he could build a bulletproof closet for his classmates to sit in” during the "next clear-the-halls" active-shooter drill, she said.
Brumsted described the moment as heart wrenching: “Your child comes forward with these fears, and you can’t protect them.”
Sheldon recalled visiting her neighbor, whom she identified only as Raymond, after she was elected to represent Middlebury. She said she didn’t expect to find much common ground with him — a National Rifle Association supporter and gun owner — on the topic of firearm legislation. By the time she left, Sheldon said, they’d agreed on every single point.
“I want to remind the committee that responsible gun owners in Vermont also support what you’re doing,” Sheldon said.
Houghton said her community knows well what gun violence at schools can look like, recalling the August 2006 incident in which a gunman killed one teacher and injured another at Essex Elementary School. Last year, she said, threats of violence prompted another lockdown. Houghton, her voice quivering with emotion, said she could not imagine what it was like inside the high school that day as students and teachers waited to find out if they were safe.
“What I did imagine,” she said, pausing to collect herself, “was my sweet eight-year-old boy locked in a room” with 19 other kids and one teacher. Houghton encouraged her colleagues to press on with gun safety policies, even as doing so would bring criticism from Second Amendment advocates.
Copeland Hanzas thanked the committee for its work and recognized the discomfort of being “under the microscope” as a result of their efforts to advance gun control policy. She said the controversy surrounding gun legislation is based in flawed logic.
“I really think we ought to err on the side of human life … as opposed to pretending the Second Amendment is more important than human life,” she said.