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Two attendees at a Gun Sense Vermont vigil at Pliny Park in Brattleboro last year hold up a poster with the pictures of the 26 victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Voices / Column

Time to vote for some gun sense

Far too many stories speak to the need for firearms reform in Vermont

Saxtons River

Melissa Barratt, a Bellows Falls resident, was 31 years old when she was killed in 2011 by a drug dealer who got the gun he used by trading drugs for it.

And that’s just one story among far too many that speak to the need for sensible gun legislation in Vermont.

Right now, felons, domestic abusers, and convicted drug dealers can buy guns in Vermont from unlicensed sellers who are not required to conduct background checks. And without a background check, there’s no way to know if a gun is being sold to a criminal or another dangerous person.

Experience and data from other states show that background checks are effective in curbing gun violence. In states that have such measures in place, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by an intimate partner, firearm suicides rates are 49 percent lower, and gun trafficking is lower by 58 percent.

We also know that violence against women across the country is directly related to weak gun laws, the catalyst that can turn domestic abuse into domestic homicide. This is especially true in Vermont, where convicted violent offenders who can’t buy or possess guns under federal law avoid a background check by purchasing guns from unlicensed sellers.

Overall, the presence of a gun in domestic violence cases increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. In Vermont, between 1994 and 2012, more people were killed with guns in domestic violence incidents than any other type of homicide. And Vermont has the highest rate of gun deaths in New England.

Now Vermont’s easy supply of guns is adding to the guns-for-drugs trade, and we also have one of the highest rates of gun trafficking in the Northeast. As some law-enforcement officials put it in reporting by WCAX, Vermont is a state “where you have drugs going in and guns coming out.”

According to a study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, we now have the highest rate of illicit drug use in the country. In just two years, Vermont has seen a 770-percent increase in treatment for drug abuse, and last year heroin overdose deaths nearly doubled.

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With an estimated 40 percent of gun transfers originating from unlicensed sellers at flea markets, auctions, and gun shows, it’s clear that the loopholes in current federal background checks need to be fixed. Given that gun deaths now exceed motor-vehicle deaths in Vermont, according to a report issued by the Violence Policy Center, background checks should be a no-brainer.

A recent survey of likely voters in Vermont conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies revealed that an overwhelming majority of voters support requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check for all gun sales, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from.

Additionally, a strong majority agree that support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. This support cuts across party, regional, ideological, and demographic lines.

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In the elections coming in just a few weeks, we need to vote in state legislators who understand that background checks are the only systematic way to stop dangerous people from buying guns: felons, domestic abusers, people who are severely mentally ill and pose a danger, and others.

So what are we waiting for, Vermont? Let’s vote for gun sense. Now is the time to elect legislators who support ending gun violence in our state.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #276 (Wednesday, October 15, 2014). This story appeared on page D1.

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