Vermont Senate Seeks to Revive Vetoed Gun Waiting Period Bill | Off Message

Vermont Senate Seeks to Revive Vetoed Gun Waiting Period Bill

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Deepak Malhotra and Michael Luca of Harvard Business School testifying Thursday at the Vermont Statehouse - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Deepak Malhotra and Michael Luca of Harvard Business School testifying Thursday at the Vermont Statehouse
Two committees of the Vermont Senate summoned a pair of Harvard Business School professors to the Statehouse on Thursday in an attempt to breathe life into vetoed gun legislation.

The bill in question, S.169, would mandate a 24-hour waiting period before most handgun purchases. It cleared the legislature last May but was vetoed in June by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

Since then, legislative leaders have struggled to decide whether to compromise with the governor or attempt to override his veto, which would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers. While the measure met that threshold last year in the Senate, it fell short in the House on a vote of 82 to 58.



On Thursday, senators sought to convince their colleagues — and perhaps the governor — that the bill could, in fact, save lives. They invited professors Deepak Malhotra and Michael Luca to present their research showing that waiting periods cut the homicide rate by 17 percent and the suicide rate by 7 to 11 percent.

"If this policy passes, if the objective is to reduce gun deaths, that would be something you could very much expect," Malhotra told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

The professors reached their conclusions after analyzing the outcomes of various state-based waiting periods over a 45-year span and studying the impact of a national waiting period in effect from 1994 to 1998. They determined that, throughout the country, waiting periods could prevent 900 homicides and 950 suicides a year.

Such measures, Malhotra conceded, were "not a magic wand," noting that 90 percent of suicides would still take place. "But every one of those deaths has an impact on the family, the community, the entire state," he said.

Less clear from their research, the professors acknowledged, was whether the length of a waiting period made it more or less effective. They were not able to study the efficacy of a 24-hour waiting period because no state has enacted such a limited measure.

Scott cited that paucity of applicable data last year in explaining his veto to reporters. "There are no comparisons to a 24-hour waiting period on handguns alone," he said at a press conference. "There are no-apples-to-apples comparisons."

The governor hasn't, apparently, changed his mind since. According to spokesperson Rebecca Kelley, Scott "stands by this decision" and believes that "the best way to build upon the work we’ve done to reduce gun violence and suicide is to focus on the root causes." She cited proposals from his budget address earlier this week that would increase funding for suicide prevention and early intervention programs.

"If the Senate disagrees, they have the ability to override the governor’s veto," Kelley said.

Whether the Senate will attempt to do so remained unclear after the professors delivered their testimony. During a brief discussion about what to do next, members of the Judiciary Committee complained that the administration had not made clear what the governor would support and what he wouldn't.

"It's hard to make that decision without actually hearing from them," said Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), who chairs the committee.

One option, Sears suggested, would be to increase the duration of the waiting period — something the senator has previously opposed. Another would be to strip out that portion of the bill and pass a more limited measure. Its other provisions include closing the so-called "Charleston loophole" by requiring background checks to be completed prior to a sale and allowing medical professionals to request "extreme risk protection orders" against those they deem a risk to public safety.

That's the preferred approach of Bill Moore, a firearms policy analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, which supports gun rights. "There's consensus on all of the other elements," he said. "So we would strongly urge both [chambers] to go ahead and just take out the waiting period — have that debate on another platform."

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said he believes the Senate "should do anything we can to get a waiting period passed into law to save lives." But, he added, "We're also realistic. There are three partners in this, and hopefully the research helps people make a better decision."

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.