This is madness. And we must work together to stop it.

The gun-violence-prevention legislation passed in the House of Representatives is a positive step in the right direction

BRATTLEBORO — A Florida high-school student poignantly asked “What about our right to live?” several days after the recent high-school shooting, when 17 of our nation's best and brightest senselessly lost their lives.

This beautiful young woman and three of her peers appeared on “CBS This Morning.” They were responding to the most recent slaughter of innocents at the hands of a deranged individual wielding a military-grade assault weapon that belongs solely on the battlefield.

“What about our right to live?” was her counterpoint to the Second Amendment “right to bear arms” clause, the clarion call of gun-rights activists that has dominated our national conversation for years.

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There have been at least 10 school shootings in the United States since the beginning of 2018. When such shocking murders occur yet again, they momentarily shatter our world. We cringe. We cry. And then we slump once more into a state of paralysis.

People who live in the United States, a nation with only 4.2 percent of the Earth's population, own 42 percent of the world's firearms.

The question is: Why?

No other nation permits its people to mow one another down daily with easy-to-obtain firearms. To other industrialized societies, the United States looks more like the Wild West than a civilized country.

This is madness. And we must work together to stop it.

Research shows a better background check system and further restrictions on gun ownership for domestic abusers and other violent offenders are effective remedies to this challenge. Reducing access to the kinds of rifles used in nearly all these deadly shootings is another.

As a society, we must restrict the use of all assault weapons. They have no place - let me repeat, no place -in civilized society.

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Jack Sawyer's arrest in Fair Haven for plotting a school shooting shook Vermonters. It made many of us painfully aware that our state is not immune to the violence that has shaken other communities in other states.

Vermonters were stunned to learn that even in a state seen as a beacon of safety, our schoolchildren and educators could have been gunned down in mere minutes in a Columbine-esque, military-style massacre.

As a people, deep in our hearts, we know the root causes of gun violence include the breakdown of the family, generational poverty, hopelessness, alienation, and festering mental-health issues. And, as a people, we know we need to work together to address these social ills.

We also know the high rate of gun violence in the United States is the result of the prevalence of firearms and Americans' tacit acceptance of weak gun laws.

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I'm proud of the gun-violence-prevention legislation we passed in the House of Representatives last week. It is a positive step in the right direction.

Our bill:

• Codifies current practice by giving judges the discretion to require individuals who are a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as a condition of pre-trial release.

• Empowers family members and law enforcement to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, which will temporarily restrict access to guns for individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others.

• Provides protection to domestic-assault victims by allowing law enforcement, in specific circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if its removal is necessary to protect a police officer, the victim, or another person. (Vermont has the eighth highest rate of domestic violence in the nation. Almost half the adult murders in the state are domestic-violence-related; 69 percent of those deaths take place by means of firearms.)

The shooter who slaughtered his peers in Florida was able to legally own the semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle he used for the massacre. He was able to purchase the military-grade weapon, despite the fact that his mother, his classmates, and his teachers had described him as dangerous and despite the police having been called to his home repeatedly.

What's wrong with this picture? Everything.

Five states have laws that permit family members, guardians, or police to ask judges to temporarily strip gun rights from people who show warning signs of violence. We need to join them and protect our people.

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Young people have roused our nation out of a state of paralysis by demanding we confront the National Rifle Assoc iation's staunch opposition to sensible gun laws. One student organizer aptly asked gun-rights proponents: “Why is your right to own an AR-15 more important than our right to feel safe?”

In addition to rapidly building a social-media campaign for commonsense gun laws, the students are spearheading a rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 24, to make their voices heard. Let's join them.

They also will have locations in every major city nationwide where people can go that same day to show their support for such legislation.

Many high-school students are 18 years old or will turn 18 before the upcoming midterm and general elections in November. Students are focusing on these elections and will vote their consciences, casting ballots for candidates who support commonsense gun laws.

This is good news.

Activists on the ground need to back incumbents and candidates who advocate this legislation and help remain in office or win elections. By writing letters to the editor on such contenders' behalf, helping them knock on doors, and contributing to their campaigns during primary and general elections, everyone can help elect these lawmakers.

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House Democrats in Vermont will continue to push for more-effective gun laws. We know we can craft legislation that will reduce the loss of innocent lives without unduly infringing on state residents' Second Amendment rights.

I strongly believe in and respect Vermont's hunting traditions and heritage of responsible gun ownership. But assault weapons have no place in this state or anywhere in American society.

The legislation the House has passed to date, and will strive to pass in the future, will help keep Vermonters safe. At the end of the day, protecting the public's safety is every lawmaker's and leader's primary responsibility.

The House Judiciary Committee will take up a bill that would restrict the sale of bump stocks, which convert semi-automatic weapons into military-style automatic weapons. It looks like we will have the votes in the House to pass this bill before we adjourn.

You can help us pass such sensible gun laws by contacting the governor, your state senators, and your state representatives. Urge them to vote to protect the public's health and safety.

As the women's movement mantras say: “Time's up. It's on us.” Rest assured, this four-term House Democrat will continue to push for these gun laws until we adjourn in May.

I hope the governor and the Senate will join us in protecting Vermonters' right to safety, and I am up for pressuring them to do so.

Are you? Join us. And help Vermont make progress on this long-overdue issue of public-health and safety.

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